Thursday, 22 March 2012

Safe as Houses?

We're not very lucky on the household front.  I'd never made a claim on my household insurance in all the years I'd been paying it but before we embarked on our Northern Adventure, we suffered a catalogue of domestic disasters. 

It all started one day in the early summer 2006 when I was working from home.  I was sitting in the dining room, which is at the back of the house, when I heard what I can only liken to the noise of a jet taking off, followed by a reasonably loud bang.  I ran out into the back garden but couldn't see anything so I went back indoors and carried on.  Moments later, the doorbell rang and I was confronted by our next door neighbour who said (quite deadpan), "Your chimney just landed on our patio."  Well, as you can imagine, I didn't know quite what to say in response, other than to apologise profusely.  It was later reported on local radio that a tornado had touched down in Canvey Island and done tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage.  When you looked out of the upstairs back windows, you could clearly see the line of destruction, bent TV aerials, missing roof tiles and torn trees.  Of course, ours was the only house that lost its chimney and we had a hell of a job convincing the insurance company what had happened.  In the end they paid out though.

A few weeks later, I took YD out for the morning to the beach with a friend and her youngest children.  We left our older ones home alone.  When we arrived back, we were met by two very meek teenage boys who claimed that one of the neighbours' lads had been hitting golf balls from their garden at the back of our house and smashed the cladding.  We were extremely impressed with the accused lad's golfing skills as he'd have to have had one hell of a shot to have been able to do that much damage from such a distance, but they were adamant that their story was true.  They went on to tell us that they had decided to go up onto the flat roof and assess the damage themselves and while up there, their feet went through the felt roof.  Given the fact that OH's golf clubs had been taken out of the shed and were spread over the lawn, my interpretation of the story is that they were hitting the golf balls themselves and climbing up to retrieve the ones that didn't come down naturally.  One of them hit the ball too hard, resulting in a hole in the uPVC cladding and two rather scared boys.  Of course, they never admitted to anything and all I had was circumstantial evidence so I had to take their word for it.  This time, the insurance claim was more complicated.  They agreed to pay out for the cladding, but not the roof.  I suppose you can't insure against stupidity.  They did, however, pay for the rain damage inside the house as a result of the holes in the felt.  Incredible.

In the meantime, we had decided to have our boiler relocated and replaced before the weather deteriorated.  We debated who we wanted to do the job and went with British Gas.  They weren't the cheapest by any means, but we believed that, being a reputable company, we would have a good job done.  How wrong we were.  Apparently it is common practise for them to employ independent contractors to carry out works.  They sent over two cowboys who did such a terrible job that British Gas had to send in their own people to get the system working and 'make good' – whilst at the same time knocking the labour charge off the cost of the installation.

Shortly after the installation was finally completed, in late October, we started to have our downstairs bathroom renovated.  It was quite a big job as we had decided to have our tiny cloakroom converted into a large shower room.  The wall between the loo and the shower had to come down and be moved about 4'.  The mess was indescribable, but the job was 'hitch-free'.  We were extremely pleased with the results and even better, the work came in under time and budget.  As we had been left with a space in the kitchen after the boiler had been moved, we asked the contractor if he would stay on and replace our kitchen units and worktops.  He agreed and work commenced in November.  We had chosen the cabinets, doors, tiles and work surfaces and the stripping out was going well until… the contractor realised that the under-sink cupboard was completely rotten.  On further investigation, he discovered that the plaster was ruined, the tiles fell off the wall and the wall itself was damp.  My prized tiled terracotta floor was lifting and the tiles badly damaged in places.  The old boiler must have been leaking for years without us knowing and without British Gas noticing during their annual inspections.  I really didn't want to enter another difficult correspondence with our insurers so our contractor kindly liaised with the insurance company on our behalf, explaining how the floor was written off, as were the units.  As we have a small kitchen with a continuous run, they eventually agreed to covering the cost of new kitchen cabinets, doors and the floor.  Result.

My mother kept telling me, "these things happen in threes" so I thought that we would be able to relax… until my son tripped at the top of the stairs and his brand new laptop fell from top to bottom and smashed.  Really, you couldn't make this stuff up.   Fortunately we have accidental damage cover and don't have a claim limit on our policy and they paid out again.

Needless to say, our premium went up the following year.  Nobody else would touch us.

We weren't covered for malicious damage so couldn't claim for the works we had to complete on the house before we moved back in, so it's now been over five years since we have made a claim.  Our premiums are back to a 'normal' level and this year we'll be able to shop around for a better deal at renewal time.  Or so we thought.

However, last night we discovered that we have another water leak, this time in the utility room.  It's coming from a joint that was installed by the people who fitted our 'all singing-all dancing' American style fridge freezer that needs a water supply for the water and ice cube dispenser.  It's clearly been leaking for some time (probably since installation in December), but has gone unnoticed because the joint is hidden behind the washing machine.  We only found it when we did because the floor was audibly squelching!  We're currently waiting for the plumber to arrive to fix it and I shall then be writing to Curry's and demanding that they at least contribute to the cost of a new floor - otherwise it's going to have to be another claim.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

One Small Victory for Bottoms All Over the Building!

Received at lunchtime today...

Hi Gini,
Further to your email, I can confirm that the sanitary bins in B building, as well as those in all other areas of site, are being replaced with shorter units.
These units have been ordered from our supplier and will take approximately two weeks to be delivered. They will then be installed at the next scheduled visit which will be towards the middle of April. This will resolve this issue as the bins are much shorter than the ones that are in there now.

Contract Business Manager

Could have done with being resolved a bit sooner, but I can't say I'm not pleased! 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Why Can't People Just Do What They're Asked To?

There seems to be an epidemic surrounding me of people who just won't do what they're supposed to do.  It's not just at home, not just at work, but everywhere.  

There are children that won't tidy their rooms, or do their homework and teachers who won't change things they're asked to.  There are Employment Agencies who won't administer payroll correctly and other Agencies who won't answer queries or send out new contracts.  There are work colleagues who won't read and respond to email, or complete a clearly laid out task, or turn up for meetings, or carry on a technical conversation without going off on a tangent and managers who won't sign things off.  There are other colleagues who just won't do anything you ask them to do at all!  There are cats that won't come inside when they're called.  There is an ex-husband who refuses to pay child support and an ineffective Government who won't take action to make him.  There are prople who won't clear the coffee table of rubbish, bowls, cups and dirty tissues before they go to bed.  There is a sewing machine that won't work.  There are neighbours who won't move their van.  There are medical professionals who refuse to take responsibility for DH's ongoing care now that we have moved.  At home, nobody will change the toilet roll or empty the bin in the bathroom.  There are teenagers who won't look for a job, or load the dishwasher, or tidy up after themselves and husbands who forget to post letters.  There are repair engineers who don't turn up and delivery drivers who won't leave the packages where the instructions on the form tell them to.  There are people who won't flush the toilet or scrub out the bowl when it's dirty.  There are friends who won't answer texts.  There is a payroll department that won't send the requested information to the Tax Office so that a rebate can be issued.  There are shop assistants who won't read your Tesco order properly so send you the wrong items – or substitute where you didn't want them to.  There are sellers on eBay that post the wrong items, then can't remember who they posted your item(s) to.  There is someone who won't get around to disposing of the furniture and boxes (from their flat) that are cluttering up my house and someone else who has taken over my conservatory with their art resources and moans about clearing the table so we can eat.  

Every single on of these things adds to my daily stress.  Maybe I'm too demanding.  Or maybe you should JUST DO IT!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Dear Facilities Management,

I'm sorry to trouble you with this, but the notice on the back of the toilet door directs me to you if I have any issues with the sanitary facilities and as you read on you'll see why I didn't want to do it on the phone, working in a largely male environment.

I'm really struggling with the new sanitary bins in the ladies' toilets. They look very smart, but they're not very practical and quite frankly I'm fed up with having to sit on one every time I need a wee. I'm the first to admit that I'm not the slimmest woman in the building, but they're so big that I can't use the toilet now without the top of my leg touching the sanitary bin - which I personally find not only uncomfortable but also extremely distasteful. I also have to juggle with my skirt/dress to stop it draping over the top of the bin while I'm using the toilet which is a major issue especially at the time of the month that you would actually need to be using the bin.

Apart from the discomfort, I am concerned about the hygiene aspect of having to keep touching the bins with my bare skin and clothes - surely the whole point of changing the perfectly adequate bins we had previously for these new fancy bins with a pedal was to eliminate the need to touch the bin itself - yet by choosing such an enormous bin, you have now made skin contact mandatory for all users of the ladies' toilets. I've had to resort to bringing in a bottle of skin sanitiser and rubbing it onto my thigh after I have used the facilities which I'm sure you will agree is an absolutely absurd thing to have to do on a daily basis.

Is there any way that these bins could be swapped for something smaller - or maybe relocated outside of the cubicles? After all, we're all women, we all know what they're needed for so why should it matter if they're inside or outside, so long as they're still within the ladies' loos?

Sincerely hoping for a less stressful toilet experience soon,

Kind regards / Saygılarımla / Grüße....

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Oh, How Some Are Missed

Out of the twenty five people in my department, three suddenly left last week.  What could have prompted this mass exodus?  Did they all get a better offer?  Was it a direct result of a change of supervisor and senior management… or more worryingly was it the fact that I came back into the department? 

One of the escapees is being missed though.  He was one of the few people who made it worth coming to work - with his funny face and cheerful disposition (and yes, you know who you are and I know you're reading this).  I miss my daily un-diverse, sexist and politically incorrect joke.  Who will I confide my work-day misery to now he is gone?  Things haven't been the same this week, but it could be argued that that's mainly because I now have to buy my own tea from the coffee shop!

Fortuitously, the departure of our former colleagues has coincided with a minor headcount reduction task, so those of us left feel a little more secure in our positions.  Who knows how long this will last though.  Our organisation chart now fits on one A5 sheet of paper.  If we carry on at this rate, we won't even need a sheet of paper. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Hollywood Bound?

The network has been down on and off at work today, rendering it impossible for me to actually achieve anything as my job function is primarily web-based.  This has allowed me the luxury of being able to write a quick blog entry during working hours, although I won't be able to post until the network is back up and fully functioning so as you read, this could be days old…

YD has been very much in demand for auditions of late and has secured a part in an advert being filmed this week.  We've all been very excited by this development as the client is a very (and I mean very) high profile company.  The costume she's been given for the shoot is absolutely dreadful and I don't even want to think about what they'll do to her hair, but the money she is earning is extortionate for the hours she is allowed to work, so I'm not complaining, as it all goes into her university fund.  However, when the contract finally came through yesterday, I was more a little gutted to note that the advert is not being aired in the UK, only in North America, so unless someone puts a copy on YouTube, we won't get to see it.   I suppose on the plus-side, some eagle eyed talent scout could 'spot' her and we could all be whisked away from our boring, hum-drum lives to the glamorous world of Hollywood….

Yeah, OK, dream on!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Printing and Ears

At work, there are alarmingly few printers for the volume of people needing to print.  This means that quite often, the single page you want to print is held in a queue and a lot of time is wasted hanging around printer areas waiting for these enormous machines to spit out decorated paper.

Whilst wasting time waiting for my pretty pictures to come out of the machine this morning, I noticed that a gentleman near the front of the printer queue had remarkably hairy ears.  The hairs were not just sprouting from inside the ear, but also completely covered the outside of his ears, both cartilage and lobe. 

I was completely spellbound by this chap's ears and could hardly stop myself staring.  Some hairs looked course and bristly while other hairs looked softer and more downy.  Some were dark and others fair, but all were seemingly without pattern.  I observed these strange, furry ears for as long as was polite… well, until he collected his printing and walked away. 

I was so fascinated that I have spent the remainder of the morning surreptitiously ogling the ears of every man that comes close enough for me to see.  I have noticed that cases of such extremely hairy ears, whilst relatively unusual are not that rare.  In fact, there is a man in my department with just such ears, although his fur is more even in colour and texture than the chap's was at the printer this morning.   

The strangest thing is that the hair on their heads is shorter than the hair on their ears.  Surely their respective barbers must have offered to trim them up as part of their 'short back and sides'?  Furthermore, both of the men I have mentioned are married and I have to ask myself why their wives have not noticed their condition and done something to remedy it.  It would drive me bonkers.

I spend a lot of time in meetings and I shall make every effort to sit in a different place and next to a different person each time so that I can investigate this phenomenon further.  And I plan to check DH's ears carefully this evening, tweezers in hand, for the slightest sign of sprouting…

Monday, 30 January 2012

New School?

Being back at work full-time, whilst having drawbacks, does give a certain amount of financial freedom.  Enough freedom for us to consider pulling YD out of the state school system and having her privately educated.  We have given serious thought to home schooling but public school fees are far less than the financial loss we would suffer with me giving up work to teach her at home.  This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but since moving back to Essex we have been shocked by the poor standard of education in the local primary schools and watched her lack of progress with horror.  

We have spoken to her current school on numerous occasions about our concerns, yet despite their assuring us that they were improving differentiation and re-writing/adjusting the curriculum to meet her needs, we have yet to see any real change put in place.  The disparity between the schools is such that she is, in fact, losing some of the learning she had done in previous years – just because she hasn't used it – which is completely unacceptable. 

We recently received a letter from the school informing us that YD is 'gifted and talented' in all areas (like we didn't already know that) but all they offer in support of this achievement is a one-off 'workshop' for each subject later in the year.  Her last school had regular sessions for the G&T children to encourage and nurture their strengths.  There's no comparison really.  We had no idea that the standard of education between 'comparable' schools could be so different – according to Ofsted, they're both 'outstanding' schools.  Maybe Ofsted need to make sure that their 'standards' are actually standard?

Apart from that, she sticks out like a sore thumb in her current setting anyway... unlike most of her contemporaries she is polite, well behaved, well spoken, neatly dressed and articulate.  She is bright, diligent, conscientious and takes enormous pride in her achievements.  She is upset by people swearing and teachers shouting, she uses cutlery at the dinner table and sits up straight instead of slouching.  She is bubbly and confident and constantly erupting with questions and ideas. 

We spoke to YD last week about whether she was happy at school and she said yes… however when offered an alternative she jumped at it… surely not a sign of a truly happy child.

So, yesterday afternoon we took YD to view the first independent school on our list.  The fees are within the range we expected and the uniform is quite cute.  The boys wear caps and the girls wear little felt hats in the winter and straw boaters in the summer.  Parking might be an issue, but YD will catch the school bus in the morning so it'll only be afternoons I need to worry about.  

We really liked it.  The school building is quaint but the facilities are excellent.  YD however isn't sure.  She says the school wasn't what she was expecting, although she can't actually define what she was expecting.  An hour looking around wasn't long enough to give her an impression of what being there full-time would be like, so we have decided to ask for a 'taster day' so that she gets a real feel for the place before committing.  

It's so important to get it right this time, for her sake.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Growing Pains

The Nocturnal Child has just completed the first competency test in the university application process – successfully completing the UCAS form.  It took some considerable time as the website was slow, mainly because almost every other 18 year old in the country had also left it until the last minute to put their applications in.  It took three days in total to make the payment because every time I tried, the website fell over. I typed my card number in so many times that I've learned it by heart.  I wonder how many other exasperated parents there were out there this week and last?

Having got her application in before the deadline, the Nocturnal Child is now receiving electronic correspondence from the five establishments she has applied to.  Her first choice university, (which happens to be the furthest away geographically) wrote her an enormously unhelpful email telling her that their applications closed two weeks previously and that they would be considering the applicants who met their deadline before looking at hers.  Fair enough though… I should imagine that they laid their timescales out clearly in their prospectus. 

Her second choice, which coincidentally is the second furthest away, also emailed but this time told her that they require her to complete their own application process before they will consider her application.  Given the speed with which she made the initial application, I think we can fairly safely write that one off too.  The other three, which are all much closer to home and therefore commutable, seem to be OK.

I'm not really sure what the Nocturnal Child is planning though.  She frequently (and loudly) expresses the desire to get as far away from home as possible, yet in the next breath threatens us with another four years of having her living at home while she is studying.  She has spoken of making a late application through 'clearing', yet continually fails to look for/secure regular work and start saving for the autumn term while she waits for her finance to come through. 

If she stays at home and commutes, I will still have the benefit of a live-in babysitter a couple of days a week.  She might moan constantly about her misfortune but she will, at a push, get up and take YD to early morning gymnastics (7.50am start) and do school pick ups when nobody else is around.  The Nocturnal Child can also, occasionally, be bribed into doing some of the less pleasurable jobs around the house and garden for unreasonably large amounts of money.  She has moments of tidiness when she gets up at 5am and cleans the kitchen (I must stress that these are rare and short-lived) - and three weeks of the month she is almost pleasurable to be with.

But if she goes, the mess will disappear with her.  The sniping and arguing between the sisters should diminish as well.  And finally a truce will be called between her and DH, even if it is enforced by absence.  My life will become calm and conflict-free.  DH and YD will only have me to hen-peck them.  OD's OCD will be able to progress beautifully without the 'mess-stress' caused by her sister.  We will be able to reclaim the dining room table from her all encompassing art projects and not have to squeeze five of us around the tiny table in the breakfast room for six meals out of seven.

Only time will tell what will happen, but I can honestly say that if she goes I will miss her.  And if she stays, I will miss not missing her.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Exercise and a Fat Bird.

Well, I have been back on the diet wagon for three whole weeks and have lost a fairly impressive 8.5lb so far.  The trousers that were cutting me in two the first week back at work after Christmas now fit beautifully.  My boobs are no longer spilling out of my bra, I can zip up my boots again and I actually do feel thinner. 

I've realised how sedentary I've become since going back to work so I now use the furthest printer on my floor and walk up and down the stairs instead of using the lift.  Each flight is the equivalent of two flights of domestic stairs and I work on the 4th floor.  The coffee shop is on the 1st floor and the restaurant on the 2nd.  My new boss works on the 3rd, as do many of my colleagues, so on average in total, I'm scaling the dizzy heights of 15-20 flights of office stairs a day.  

The first week nearly killed me.  In fact, the on first day I tried, I gave up at the 3rd floor and took the lift up to the 4th because I was almost on my knees after climbing 86 steps.  By the time I stagger those last few steps to my desk each morning I am a sweating, puffing and panting mess.  Fortunately I'm usually the first one in so nobody sees me and I have time to compose myself before the guys start arriving.  But at least I'm doing something and every day it gets a bit easier.  The day it feels 'easy', I'll start running up them instead!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Alright Already... I'm Blogging!!!

OK, OK, OK… I’m writing.  There’s so much to say I don’t even know where to start.  Life back in Essex is ticking over.  I’m back at work full-time in the job I left five years ago, sitting at my old desk with the same extension number and mostly the same old faces.  It’s like deja-vu… everything’s the same, yet subtly different.  There’s no less red tape, no fewer hurdles to clear and still as many hoops to jump through before you can actually achieve anything.  Money’s tighter and management are slightly more obstructive than previously, but rumour has it that will be changing as of next week when someone new takes over.  If the rumours are true, I’ll be very happy as I know the new manager (I worked with him in a previous life).  He won’t tolerate bullsh1t and he’s hard but fair.  I’m looking forward to working with him again.

Life is still hectic, running around after YD with all of her clubs and activities.  She’s had two auditions this week alone.  DH is still off of work but making excellent progress.  He’s doing an adequate job as ‘house husband’, although cooking unsupervised is still risky as he tends to get distracted and wander off, leaving food under the grill.  Good job we’ve got a smoke alarm and tolerant neighbours.  Luckily we have a dear friend who comes in and checks on him during the week.  She is my saving grace – she did so much to help us get the house straight before we moved back from Hexham – now she takes OH out shopping a couple of times a week but also does all of my ironing and cleans for me on a Friday.  It’s absolutely wonderful to come home to a clean and tidy house on a Friday evening, knowing I’ve no housework to do all weekend.  I don’t know what I’d do without her.  She’s an angel.

We finally have a plan for the refurbishment of the main upstairs bathroom.  Well, actually two plans, as I can’t measure the room accurately until the two/three layers of tiles have been removed from the walls.  It’s the tiniest bathroom known to man so millimetres are critical when it comes to the design.  I think I can fit in a vanity basin unit, L-shaped shower/bath, toilet with concealed cistern and a tall cupboard for towels etc.  However, if I’m 15mm out in my calculations, the tall cupboard has to go.  We’ve asked the lovely Tony if he can start at the end of next month but the job will take 3-4 weeks as the room will need completely replastering after the tiles are off and I can’t order the suite until I have the exact measurement of the room.  It’ll be lovely when it’s done though.  I promise to post pictures.

Overall we’ve settled in well although it feels as if the house will never be straight as OD has moved home and filled every available nook, cranny and square inch of floor space with the contents of her flat.  We now have an impressive 20 (yes 20) dining room chairs.  12 of them match my dining table and 8 don’t.  The 8 odd chairs need to leave the house.  Along with the supplementary dining room table, the second sofa bed, the third couch, the extra freezer, the duplicate microwave, additional double bed and mattress, bookcases, TV unit and various miscellaneous boxes of kitchen equipment.  The slow cooker can stay though as my one is big enough to feed a small village and her one does 6 nicely.  Oh and she can stay too!