Halloween

At this time of year my brain starts off on a merry journey into the past.

Halloween was a big thing in our family. No one really knows why, but I have so many distinct memories of going round to Gran and Grandad’s house, with its three reception rooms and separate kitchen (we were all jealous).

That was a massive house. And it was full of intrigue, with its ancient rocking horse that used to sit there in their bedroom. It must have been really old, and it scared the shit out of me. Anyway.

The party used to start with bobbing for apples, which I used to be the official timekeeper of. I’d sit there with my watch and time it to the second, 1 point for an apple, 5 for a chestnut. It was expertly officiated, even if I do say so myself.

There was also “hang apple” – where, blindfolded, you had to bite a swinging apple in front of you. The joke was often that Grandad would come along and put a bar of soap in front of you instead.

Then Nan would come out with a tray of roasted chestnuts. I didn’t understand how anyone could eat something so tough. I still haven’t had one, but I’d like to try it…

There was music and drinking. The adults were usually off their faces. And someone would be the designated supervisor, as the children went off to trick or treat through the neighbourhood. Occasionally, these sort of things ended in anti-social behaviour, the kind that would get you an ASBO these days. Not that they exist any more.

I look back on these things and think – wow, we were a bit strange. I know all families have their quirks, but I remember once relaying this to my friends and none of them said they did anything for Halloween. As a child, I assumed this was just what everyone did.

Now, it seems, we were just ahead of our time. Halloween is a huge thing, and still growing. Every year the effort people go to is crazy. If you have kids I suppose it’s a fun thing. Personally, I now find it scary. I deliberately leave all the lights off and hide in a back room, one you can’t see from the street. I even leave the curtains open so it looks like I just didn’t get home, and it’s better not to bother…

Children bring families together. Our family was somewhat privileged in that all of the adults – my aunties and uncles – all had children of similar ages. So we’d come together and have fun, even if it was a school night. We had a few of these sorts of things throughout the year that brought us together. I have always had more fond memories of my mum’s family as a result. My dad’s family never really bothered. I couldn’t understand why.

My mum tried to do the same with us. She did well, but I fear with the disintegration of society, and the fact that as a result of some of us doing OK we’re now far away from each other… there really now is no event that could possibly bring all of us together. Only one of us is having children (at the moment, anyway), and the age gap is too wide. We’ll never all come together and make the same memories that I had the benefit of enjoying.

We have bred an anti-social society. Children are the centre of the universe, and end up thinking they’re so damn special that they don’t need to be friends or try and get on with others.

He says, as he blocks up the door and fires a lump of coal at the children baying for blood (sweets) outside.

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Smells Like Onions

Onions have never been a staple in my kitchen. In fact, that previous sentence is a nonsense. Nothing has ever been a staple in my kitchen. Kitchens and me have never been a thing. I spend my life either working or resting, and the thought of every evening coming home from work to then spend another half an hour to an hour working even more just to then wolf the food down in 5 mins aggrieves me.

Whilst that is generally still true now, it may have worn away a little over the last couple of years. J is more of a kitchen enjoyer than I am, and, although he’s not that much more culinary than I am, he still does have a bit more ability with a ceramic blade. In fact, until J appeared, I’d never even heard of a ceramic blade. Now I never struggle with cutting tomatoes…

The most surprising discovery to me, though, has been, at my advanced age, I never realised how pervasive the smell of onions was. OK – I knew about it once you’ve eaten it. Everyone knows the smell of a cheese and onion crisp eater. It’s not the cheese that gets you, it’s the onion. But for the person whose eaten raw onions, the taste, whilst good at the time, does tend to linger and get quite irritating for the day afterwards…

But what I didn’t know, having never actually peeled and chopped an onion in my life, was that the smell then gets stuck to your fingernails for nearly a week afterwards. All of last week, every time I blew my nose, there it was again. It took me a 2 or 3 days to realise it wasn’t just repeating on me any more. It had actually gotten into my fingernails. And I’m a religious hand washer… but the smell just stayed there.

You see, J normally chops the onions. It’s just more efficient. When the goal is to be in and out of the kitchen in as little time as possible, so that the rest of the evening can take place, the last thing you want is my cack-handed attempts to make an onion edible…

But last week he couldn’t, thanks to life’s ability to just throw a stupid at you from time to time. Whilst reaching out of the bed to turn off the bedside lamp, he seemed to stretch a little too far and apparently trapped a nerve. For a couple of days afterwards, his right shoulder and arm was basically useless, and I had to do everything. Well, I usually do anyway. He’s actually pretty lazy…

And so, when it came to curry night (which is a more moveable feast than the name implies) there was no choice but for me to face my demons and chop the onion myself. It went better than expected. It is such an impressive fruit. Or is it a vegetable? Better not start that one…

The smell is now gone, and the shoulder is now healed. Normality resumed yesterday when, whilst making the Saturday Pasta Bake (actually on a Saturday for a change) J chopped the onion in a fraction of the time. I did everything else, of course.

Not that it bothers me. Somehow, my attitude towards the waste of time that is cooking is mellowing slightly. Call it age…

The Broken House

Moving into the new house, which is about 20 years old, and therefore younger than I am by some way, has made lots of extra work.

First of all, the house is a bit dated. Its previous occupant was old, and sadly died over two years ago. The house has barely been touched since then. It’s a bit stale, old-fashioned, and in parts a bit smelly. We wanted to re-decorate, and the plan was to do it before we actually moved in, but we realised just how hard the whole process would be when we did one of the rooms ourselves. It was slow and painful. I simply don’t eat enough food to give me the energy to do too many physical chores… and J found the the process more challenging too. He thought it was going to be fun and exciting, and to be fair he’s done loads of good things, especially in relation to changing light fittings. He even pimped out an old mirror the previous occupant left behind by spraying it silver. It looks so random in the rest of the room, but it also is an oddly good fit.

Anyway, we managed to at least get someone in to decorate the living room, and that’s made it a bit better. It now looks a bit more like we are making something of it. The trouble is, the rest of the house needs so much attention too. The central heating diverter valve is broken. The immersion is now broken. The bathroom needs ripping out and starting again. The thermostat on the tank has now seized up. The downstairs toilet looks like something from the 70s. The kitchen is a bit… funky. And needs to change. The windows are horrible, rotting wood and need to go.

We’ve fortunately had the back patio door replaced before the super rain monsoons happened, as there was a huge gap underneath them. It makes a big difference. But the house itself is small and compact, and though we just about fit everything in it, we are often in each other’s way in the kitchen completely unintentionally…

Suffice it to say we need to spend a lot of money on it to make it more like what it needs to be to catch up with several years of neglect. It has been frozen in time. Houses don’t take kindly to not being lived in. They get damp and fusty. We’re slowly working it out, but it will be a long process.

The year itself has flown by though. It’s still a bit hard to believe we’re here, and now in possession of the new house.

Business has been OK – if stressful. The other company that I seem to be getting more and more involved in again is going through a critical phase, and I have foolishly lent it lots of money again. It was desperate, but it needed it. I am of the opinion that once this phase is over it will be either make or break for the company. The owner thinks its definitely it, and he will absolutely, certainly, be super rich by the end of next year. I am always more circumspect. The truth is usually somewhere inbetween, which is why, generally, we work quite well in business. We’ll see, as always.

Houses and business can go together. It’s just the way though that in order to make money you have to have money in the first place. I still haven’t worked out the answer to that one…

A Summer Update

It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to write, and a lot has happened.

First, there was the drunken friend of a friend incident, which resulted in my foolish partner outing himself to someone he really hates because they were so drunk and started with the innocent playful nonsense that people do when they’re drunk. She then proceeded to tell everyone there. It was incredibly awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved. I have made it clear my anger at the situation, where I was also outed amongst a group of people almost all of whom I didn’t know, and then she went around taking us into various conversations in a humiliating way. It was horrible. I didn’t ask for it. I wasn’t seeking anyone’s approval or acceptance. I was just trying to be a normal human being, not seeking to impose my sexuality or flaunt my “difference” – as so many gay people do. It really doesn’t matter, and I feel sorry for anyone who really is bothered about it, but I don’t actually care. No one does any more, or at least, no one should. Instead, straight people like to flaunt their own acceptance and tolerance. That was what it felt like anyway. Me? I was just embarrassed. Stop talking about me, I’d rather be in the background.

Then there is the imminent house move. I am now the joint owner of a teeny tiny house, the contents of which are a bit aged, but structurally sound. It has brought out a bizarre range of emotions, from irritating friends who mean well but sound know-it-all, to genuine happiness that something I’ve been fighting for for years is finally happening. The big move happens this Bank Holiday weekend coming. I can’t wait.

There is the business stress, where the Other Business has suddenly started taking up vast quantities of my time. It is posing many problems, and they don’t have a solution. Difficult.

Our own business is truly awful, and we grow to hate it more and more each day. To be fair, most people are nice and understand business is business. But some people are truly upsetting to us. They treat us with such disdain and can’t believe that we don’t charge a tenner for fixing things. Or worse, we can’t actually charge people because so much of IT is not even repairable or worth repairing any more. We’d love to find a way out.

Meanwhile, personally, something is different at the moment. I know sexual feelings are weird, and I’ve always had difficulty coping with who I am, but me and my partner are going through a really weird spell where we don’t talk about it. I don’t like writing these things. It feels like a betrayal. I am stronger than that, but it hints at something being wrong. I know we can work out what it is, but right now it feels like we’re so busy there’s no time to get past it.

This weekend the family have come to visit the new house. The family are being glossed over in our relationship, as, again, I don’t feel like I need to tell anyone anything. It’s my life. But it does cause some difficulties. My mum behaves very oddly these days to me. I wish I could sort of just get it over with, and then everything stayed exactly the same. But it won’t. People will start being more sensitive. Watching what they say. I don’t want people to treat me any differently once they know. It’s not even a thing. And yet my mum is not like that. She is very much like the character discussed at the start of this post. The type of person who gets off on how accepting and tolerant they are, and must announce it to everyone. I can’t cope with it. Mum is not the same person she was 10 years ago. I really don’t know what happened.

Yesterday we went to my sister’s boyfriend’s barbecue, which was being held for all of our family. It was good, and he has nice parents. She’s living not too far away from here now. She will soon own her own home too. The evening was pretty good, if tiring. I don’t do late nights any more. Suffice it to say that getting home in the next day and then waking up in the same day is really not my thing.

It really has been a significant year, and a decent summer. The weather has been shit, monsoon season, but it did have a super heatwave back in June. That’s the English summer for you.

Fun Is Expensive

The worst part of life is avoiding boredom. Sometimes it is easy and often free. In fact when you work for yourself it is often profitable.

But you can’t work for ever. I’ve learned this better as the years go by although I’m not the best at truly sticking to it…

It’s a little easier with a partner. There’s someone to spend the time with. That helps and it can make even the most mundane things fun. Shopping can be a little more entertaining with two people for observational banter.

But the trickier aspects are obvious. As anyone who ever has to organise a group knows, the more people involved the more likely it is that a compromise has to be found. Some won’t like it. Others will actively work against you. Doing things together can actually be very dull if you aren’t on the same wavelength at all times…

In the end, though, the trickiest aspect is that, sadly, there aren’t that many good free things to do. Virtually all the good stuff requires raiding the piggy bank to some degree.

Take last weekend for example. We really wanted to visit a zoo that’s about 2 hours away. Mainly because we’re already members of another zoo rather more local to us. That means the visit was actually free. But no one wants to do that all in one day. Otherwise it’s not very relaxing. So a Travelodge it is. £50. Then something for an evening meal. Evening out to Chimichangas. £50. Then something for breakfast. £10. Parking at the zoo. £3. Coffee. £7. Lunch. £10. Snacks and drinks. £10. Another coffee. £10. Evening meal on the way home. £30. Fill the tank. £35. And that’s with packing a few bits from the house to keep the cost down. Total for about 32 hours of life £215.

Imagine spending £100 a day on just discretionary stuff. £3k a month after tax. And that was being pretty tight. We had a really nice day and a half. But if we did that every weekend we’d very quickly have no money and nothing going into long term savings. Let alone buying a new house…

So it makes me sad. How can we have more fun – because we need it and deserve it for how hard we work – without spending a fortune? How can we be fun and spontaneous? I don’t think you can. Spontaneity costs an absolute fortune. Taking a packed lunch and stuff for breakfast saves.  But it means planning everything all the time. A break is less enjoyable if you’re having to constantly keep planning all the mundane crap.

No wonder people go on holiday all inclusive…

In other news the house purchase rumbles on. In fact we’re very close to the end… Maybe. I hate tempting fate but it will soon be time to start getting stressed over how little organisation we’ve done and keep not doing by wasting every day…

What’s Changed?

The world is slowly changing for me. In a tiny way and also in a big way.

The election was interesting. The result was fascinating. As a politics nerd, it was amazing. As a person it felt like a step forward. Maybe this country is finally seeing through the constant disaster of authoritarian, extremist capitalism. The type that privatises the profits and socialises the losses. I really didn’t expect enough of us would be convinced to vote to change this. I thought enough people would be scared off by the relentless media onslaught. It wasn’t too be.

I stayed up pretty much all night with my partner. We got there with a little nap before the exit poll… which made me horrendously nervous. Then the first results weren’t quite in line with the exit poll. I was devastated. Then things started to improve. Labour did well. Corbyn deserved an election and proved if the party could stick together progress could be made. He, mostly, got that. Imagine if the party had actually been truly on side…

But it doesn’t matter. We now have a lame duck government. And not much will get done. Maybe that’s a good thing though. I was sick and tired of the last wretched administration. Maybe stagnation is a good thing for a while.

Meanwhile, in home life, after much stress and battles with the bank, we may finally moving closer to buying our own home. At last. It’s exciting, but I sense we’re not there yet. More turmoil to come I’m sure…

Banks Are Mean

Throughout my self-employed life, I have come to expect nothing from a bank. They don’t like providing support, and when they do they do so only because the government has told them they need to lend to businesses.

But the worst phase of all has been in trying to secure a mortgage from them. Thanks to the financial crisis of 2008, they are now incredibly reluctant to do so without ludicrous amounts of questions that are structured backwards. You go on holidays, and buy presents for family and Christmas, and all of these are budgeted in before they decide how much you have left to afford for a mortgage. Daft. You feed yourself, pay debt next, then you find out what’s left. Cutting your cloth accordingly is not a phrase the rules understand.

So when the inevitable mortgage rejection happened, and this time for completely spurious reasons, I was somewhat resigned to it. This time, however, I am not going down without a fight. The ridiculous rules state that there is not enough evidence of consistent earnings for both of us, simply because my partner joined the business less than two years ago. Yet the business has been going for 7 years. Crazy? I just might think so.

We’re panicking a little. Timings for a nice and smooth changeover at the end of July are now very much out of the window. But we have to try and get a mortgage from somewhere. We can, and have, decided to go back to the bank and really push them hard. Banks may be silly, but they really don’t like the words “complaint” or “ombudsman”. It makes them look bad. Here’s hoping some sane person a bit higher up the food chain can overrule what is a truly absurd decision.

Life is full of surprises. In truth, I did expect this one, but this time I feel very determined to win. Last time we had this we gave up very quickly. I felt totally defeated. But it feels OK this time. It’s only a small interruption. Stressful, yes, but I will find a way…

A Significant Month?

The end of the financial year brings with it the end of the tax year. And as a self-employed person, these things tend to mean a lot to me. For one, it signifies the first estimate as to how much of my depressing student loan continues to be in repayment. But two, it also gives me a figure for the infamous “SA302” – the statement of income declared to the taxman, and therefore, how worthy you are compared to someone in standard employment.

For years I have been hoping that some day I’d be able to afford my own home. I’ve probably put it into several start of year laundry lists. But it’s never been realistic. And then, when my partner came along and diluted my earnings, as well as hurt my credit score, and then we moved house last summer, which put a massive dent in the credit score and also savings, it all got put on the back burner.

But this time, we may just have enough on our SA302s for the last two years for it to be worth something. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking at houses, including making an offer on two. The second one has been accepted, and now we’re desperately praying that the mortgage application will be approved. We may know more by the end of next week.

The clock is ticking. The tenancy agreement for this house expires in three months. They will need to know if we want to stay here by at least one month before that point. So we need two months to make progress. Will it happen in time?

The scariest part, of course, is the drain on the finances that’s about to happen. The house offer has been accepted at £226,950, which is a stunning amount of money. So much I can’t even imagine it. But it’s irrelevant. Hilariously, the potential monthly costs are less than the rent on the house we’re in now. OK, to be fair, the new place is smaller, but it would be ours. It would be a long term investment. And, as always with debt, it’s all about the servicability of it, not really the balance.

And that’s what fucks me off about this whole process. In reality, our earnings should not be an issue. But what may be the issue is the peculiar credit scoring system. Somehow, despite the fact that I have never missed a credit repayment over 13 years, and have always used and managed credit well, I have a worse credit score now than I did a year ago. It’s all bollocks, of course, and I know it’s partially down to the stupid car “balloon HP” agreement, and also my partner’s bad record, which is about 4-5 years ago, but is still affecting his score. Oh, and also the house we’re in now has a comedy address, so the credit reference agencies think I’m not registered to vote. Yeah, that’s why I have a polling card…

We have been thwarted for years by the algorithms we’re governed by, which dictate whether or not the system thinks we’re a good credit risk. They are nonsense, and always will be. In the past people made decisions. Now no one wants to, for fear of being sued for inconsistency. So we let an algorithm decide, and conveniently ignore that they were designed by humans. In one hilarious example, Lloyds Bank told me they’d be happy to lend £200,000… if I could hand over a 50% deposit. I laughed at her, and had a rant. She said it’s best not to get angry and stop lashing out at the system, but work within it.

It’s the age-old caricature. Life, and reality, has a horrible way of forcing you to accept its tedious confines. You question everything, then you learn to game the system and think you’re being really clever. Then you are the system. Then you’re dead.

But still… the next few weeks will be important. I’m trying not to put too much hope on it. A lot can go wrong from here…