Friday, 30 May 2008

Research ...

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.

J R R Tolkien



To parody Tolkien, when you start looking for something the outcome isn't always what you expected. Sometimes, what you find comes as a bit of a disappointment; sometimes the surprise is a pleasant one.

Maria's journey into old company records was tantamount to opening Pandora's Box. The search became complicated enough to make you feel that 'Hampton Court'

Hampton Court Maze

Find the path from the entrance at the bottom of the Maze (red triangle) to its centre (red dot).

The Maze - the most famous hedge-maze in the world - is situated at Hampton Court near London. It covers an area of a third of an acre (about 1350 sq meters), and its paths are half a mile (0.8 km) long. You might think, looking at the illustration above, that this maze is a very simple one. But don't be misled with its seemingly "simple" pattern; it is incredibly easy to lose yourself!

The Maze was planted in the Hampton Court Palace Gardens in 1702. It still attracts people from all over the world, and every year thousands of them are happy "to be lost" in it.


was in danger of being relegated to the second division.

In retrospect we regret that we didn't make copies of the older, hand-drawn documents that Maria stumbled across. We were in a hurry by now, wondering how many more obstacles were going to be thrown up by the bureaucrats; there were many! But for now we were concentrating on finding irrefutable evidence of the existence and layout of the properties as they were today. One of the earliest documents that showed the current layout is reproduced below. At least this was a start.


The earliest document that shows the current layout of the property.
The earliest document that shows the current layout of the property.
The extra 'roof' space (for building) came as a pleasant surprise!


An encouraging start! Further research brought to light more recent 'mapping' of the area undertaken by 'The Conservatory', the department responsible for keeping and issuing records of properties. If they issue you with a document to support your claim, it lasts for 30 days and it will cost you a few pennies, but it is the 'proof' you require when you have to deal with other local busy-bodies (don't you just lurve bureaucrats?) to have more permanent documentation produced.


The Conservatory have aerial maps of the property. A closer look at the property. The property (and village) in relation to the larger towns.
The pic masked so that the property stands out.


More digging by Maria, and things started to take a downward turn. By this time she was wearing two hats; one as the 'seller' (the Company's representative) and the other as the 'buyer' (representating OUR interests). Nice work, if you can get it. The small problem this time was that 'The Conservatory' clearly indicated that, although the property was shown as a group of five houses, all with their own enclosed 'garden' space, the houses were classed as 'Urban' and the gardens were classed as 'Rural'. It meant that even though the plans showed roofed areas on the land, they couldn't be built on if the land continued to be classed as 'Rural'. Worse, the split between 'rural' and 'urban' also meant that the houses and land had to be bought as separate parcels. In other words, none of the houses actually had gardens attached to them! How could this have happened? Who knows! All we knew is that past and present owners and administrators of the company had never really given the situation any thought. Why should they? They owned the lot!

There were several solutions to this predicament, but only one that made sense.

  • We could have elected to buy the property as it was, a split of 'urban' and 'rural'. Since there was more 'rural', and the price of 'rural' was about the tenth of 'urban' the combined property and land would be that much cheaper. But we would not be able to erect any structures on the rural bit.
  • We could have elected to only buy the houses and allow the 'rural' bit to come with the houses by default. Attractive thought, but one fraught with danger. If at some future date one of the successors to the current owners decided that he or she wanted that little bit of land and simply took it, we would not be able to do a thing about the situation.
  • We could arrange to have the two bits combined as a single parcel which would obviously increase the cost, but it would simplify the deeds.

We plumped for the last option.

Maria, with both hats firmly clamped to her head, arranged for the property and land to be amalgamated officially. We paid for the 'search' (not as magnanimous as it may seem), the company paid for the rest. It was in our interest to hurry this along; it was in the company's long term interest to establish a precedent for the sale of all the other properties when that time came. And there was "simple-ole-me", thinking that the only obstacle to buying a house was actually getting hold of the money to pay for it!

Little did I know that even bigger, unforseen headaches, were just over the horizon ...

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Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Appraisal ...

Evaluate what you want, because what gets measured, gets produced.

James A. Belasco



Time for a bit of introspective assessment. Time for inventory, to itemise, to take stock! We needed to calmly assess the 'Pros' and 'Cons' before rushing a decision.



tick  The look (will be retained, 'as-is')
tick  Location (self-contained and by the river)
tick  Buying whole street
tick  Five houses (one or two will be combined)
tick  Half an acre of 'Garden' (this is not a plus!)
tick  Water & electric already hooked up
tick  Price (preliminary talks indicate 'affordability')


cross  Condition of property (pretty run-down)
cross  Cost of restoration (roofs and toilets essential)
cross  Sewage & drainage need to be connected
cross  Cesspits need to be filled in
cross  Occupied by sitting-tenants (for how long?)
cross  Isolated (the flip side to being 'self-contained')


This was a quick assessment. Not a long list. We knew more would be added as time marched on, but would they be 'tics', 'tacs' or 'toes'?

Some sensitive sleuthing established that only two of the three 'occupied' residences actually were. One old fella had been forcibly removed by his family to live with his son in the local village, and it didn't appear that he would be returning. He had reached the stage where he was incapable of looking after himself. That left the two houses in the middle. The one that adjoined the larger end house (the one I initially thought was the one we would be buying) was occupied by a 90-year-old lady in obscenely good health. The other, the one that was a roofed-over converted passageway between two houses, was occupied by another old couple.

It transpired that the couple had a son who also lived in the local village. He immediately became a PITA when the whispers reached him that we were interested in the property. He took an aggresive stance, proclaiming that he would be enquiring with the local council as to whether his parents would be evicted from their HOME; that it would be grossly unfair; that if anybody had a right to the house it should be he! Of course I took all this as a lot of 'hot air', but it was nevertheless unwelcome as we had absolutely no intention of evicting anyone. Much to our surprise the geezer slang:
The English Dialect Dictionary defines geezer as, "a queer character, a strangely-acting person"

It probably equates loosely to today's 'dude'

followed through on his 'threat' and approached the local council to ask about the best way he should go about acquiring the property "... for his parents."

Much to his (and OUR) surprise the council informed him that they didn't actually have a record of the property he was enquiring about, which meant they couldn't proceed with his request! On further reflection we concluded that the council was probably right, even though all the other service providers recognised the 'address'. It was, after all, a passageway that had had a roof stuck over it and a doorway built into the front facade to turn it into a 'house'.

Fortunately, that was the end of his limited attempt at tilting at windmills (and he isn't even Spanish!), but the ball had now bounced firmly back into Maria's court. She would have to do some detailed digging in company records to establish exactly what was real, and what was an apparition.

Discarded Shakespeare and took up Agatha Christie and the Belgian waxed moustache. This mystery was more up his street, "N'est-ce pas?"

Curiouser and curiouser ...

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Sunday, 25 May 2008

Reality ...

Fear is a habit; so is self-pity, defeat, anxiety, despair, hopelessness and resignation. You can eliminate all of these negative habits with two simple resolves: 'I can' and 'I will'.




It was a nice feeling to think that this picture-postcard setting could be ours. Then the enormity of the task sank in. Sure, it looked pretty. Sure, the location was ideal. But what was the reality of converting these 'houses' into something that we could occupy and in which we could feel comfortably 'at home'? I mean, did we have the time for all the crap that would certainly come our way? Did we have the time to undertake the 'undertaking', and still be able to enjoy it? I suppose I went through the whole gamut of 'negatives' that appear in the quotation above!

You can assume, correctly, that I was on a downer. Maria on the other hand was up-beat enough for the both of us.

Let me introduce you to a couple of 'Maria-isms'.

Mild spring Sunday afternoon. Late, lazy breakfast. I, with (ex)military precision and correctness, offer to do the washing up. She has other plans.

ME: "I'll wash up. Won't take a minute."
SHE: "Nah!"
ME. "Honest, I'll have it done in a jiffy!"
SHE: "The sun is shining. The dog could do with a run on the beach. The dishes will always be there. The sun might not. Let's catch it while we can."
ME: "Oh, OK!" (able to see the rationale of the argument, and always able to recognise an order when I hear one)


On the occasion I was tinkering with a shelf over the computer monitor and allowed the screwdriver to slip, gouging a huge scratch into the front face of the monitor bezel:

ME: "Bugger!"
SHE: "What?"
ME: "Stupid, stupid, stupid me! Ruined the monitor!" (I've always been prone to exaggeration)
SHE: "Don't worry about it. It will last forever." (and how right she was; the scratch still haunts me to this day!)

So whereas I, the pessimist, could see only dungeons in the air she, the optimist, was able to see the castle - (thank you Reader's Digest).

I still had many questions, not least of all was how many of the 'houses' were occupied. Turns out the three in the middle still had tenants. So, we could only be sure of actually occupying the two end houses! There would be a whole bunch of itinerants 'parked' between our lounge and kitchen on one side of the house and the bedroom and bathroom (the latter would still need to be built) at the other. Remember, these are sitting-tenants who have the right to continue to live there. For as long as they lived, that is!

I took up reading again. Macbeth and Hamlet became firm favourites.

Especially the more grisly scenes ...

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