The years

At the turn of the last decade, twelve years ago, we were united with those two little angels who took over our life. All of a sudden, we were thrown in at the deep-end, learning the art of the nappy-change, feeding and ceaseless care, as those vulnerable infants came to define our lives.

Our house would be filled with visitors then, friends and family, descending to welcome those little ones. An opportunity for the reunification of our wider family. And to witness the love of my grandmother once more, always insistent on making the eight-mile trip to see her great-grandchildren, or us to her.

In the spring of 2011, my mother-in-law made her second visit to England, staying with us for months. That summer, we made our first trip to Turkey with the children, staying with relatives, and visiting the highlands. They remained all the way through until winter, as my wife oversaw the construction of our first little house there.

The winter of 2012 brought heavy snow. The kids played in the garden, building snowmen and sledging down the drive. In the spring, we started building an extension on the back of the house, to afford us more room. The same year, we’d spend spring in our new house in Turkey, and only I would return to complete the remodelling of our place back home.

2012 would also have been the year my team at work was disbanded, forcing me to go-it-alone as a one-man-band. As a cost-saving measure, I was instructed to work from home, to avoid them paying the excess travel fees for the relocation of our office 25 miles south. So I have been a remote worker for a whole decade now.

2013 would be the first summer working from home abroad, with the encouragement of my manager. We remained in our little house the full six weeks, with me working from a laptop with views over the Black Sea. The following summer, my parents would stay with us there as well, absorbing that famous Turkish hospitality.

And so the years ebb and flow, a decade rattling past. Our eldest is fourteen now. We’d forget the years that have passed us by if it wasn’t for the burgeoning photo collection, which daily prompts us to look back on this week through the years.

And now another year begins to draw to a close. All of a sudden, it is December, the months hurtling past as if they were just days. Here I look back on my archives, to recall all I wrote twelve months ago. It’s as if it was just yesterday: but no, in the months since then, most that I wrote has been blown out of the water by reality.

And so the years vanish behind us, locked away and out of reach.

Designs

Watching Grand Designs and seeing the very expensive cockups, over and over, all I can say is alhamdulilah!

I never understand why people embark on these mammoth projects with money they don’t actually have, landing themselves with gargantuan mortgages and hundreds of thousands if not millions to repay. Not my kind of dream.

We too had a grand design of our own, but ours was within reach, coming to fruition only when the time was right. With patience and without debt, alhamdulilah. Foundations for the future, if the Most Merciful wills.

Damp and mould

Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about landlords not taking the problem of damp and mould seriously. In fact, the problem is widespread.

In the early 2000s, we rented a flat from a housing association in west London. It was a tiny one-bedroom flat — one of several located in the roof of a converted old Victorian house, broken up into multiple self-contained dwellings.

Because we were in the roof — angled walls on one side, a flat roof above us, and velux windows — it was freezing cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. Through the winter, heating came from electric storage heaters and extra jumpers.

At one point, three years into our marriage, we started noticing damp and mould through the winter. We noted that it was worst after rain. We were convinced that there was a leak in the roof, which had soaked down into the cavity between the roof felt and plasterboard.

However, each time the housing inspector came to visit, he told us the problem was caused by us drying our laundry in the flat. With a kitchen and bathroom as small as we had, there was no room for a tumble drier, and even if we had had a garden of our own, there was no way we could dry our clothes outside in winter.

Anyway, that was his diagnosis, so he went away content that the damp and mould in our flat had been caused by the tenants. His prescription for the problem was telling us to leave our windows open through the winter. A sensible course of action in an already-freezing flat.

Our hypothesis would eventually prove to be correct, however, to spectacular effect. It was during a very wet evening in spring, while my father was visiting, during one of his business trips to London. My wife had just finished filling his stomach with her finest cooking when, on returning to the kitchen, she noticed a large bulge in the ceiling.

Just after she had served him Turkish coffee, the bulge in the roof began to drip. Then the drip became a steady stream of water, and then a flood, as the cavity between the roof felt and the plasterboard began to empty of its accumulated reservoir of rainwater, stored all winter long, quickly refilling the kitchen bin hastily repurposed as a bucket each time it was emptied.

That was the evening my father whispered in our ears: “Isn’t it time you two started looking for a house of your own?”

After that flood, the housing association did finally acknowledge that we had a leaking roof, which was probably the primary cause of the damp and mould in our flat. Our kitchen ceiling received emergency repairs soon afterwards and a temporary fix was made to the roof above us. Eventually all of the in-roof flats would be fully renovated, the roof completely replaced, but by then we had moved out, buying a house of our own twenty miles away.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that housing associations are failing their tenants, sometimes to devastating effect. This is in fact the norm. As a student, I rented the grottiest of flats from a church housing association opposite King’s Cross station. When I moved in, the kitchens were filthy, thick with grease, grime and fluff, the flats infested with mice.

Could we convince the housing association to do anything about it? Only in so much that they gave me a job as cleaner, deducting a slither of my rent in return! Eventually, they sold that building to property developers, for which they would have made a handsome profit. Today, my old flat has been subsumed by the upmarket Landmark Lighthouse office space.

Let’s hope the housing association reinvested that income into improving their housing stock for their remaining tenants. I hope so, because we really were living in squalor back then. And so, it seems, some still are. Some housing associations really need to up their game, if they are to avert further tragedies.

Not my cuppa

The Yorkshire Tea company has the best adverts, without a doubt, always funny and irreverent. But their tea? No, not for me. I’m an Assam man.

Or so I just remembered, after buying a big box of Yorkshire muck because nothing else was available. I thought tea would all be much of a muchness, and since my parents drink Yorkshire I was sure I couldn’t go far wrong. Aye, but that was an assumption too far.

I realise Yorkshire Tea is not my cup of tea after all. For my international readers, some clarity: Yorkshire Tea is not grown in the sunlit uplands of the Yorkshire Dales, but is a blend of teas grown in Kenya and India. There’s probably some Assam in there, but not enough to enable me to make a proper brew without composing a long winded blog post to complain.

It’s probably gone cold by now. Damn you, Yorkshire Tea. Sixty-six tea bags to go.

Wrong move

I don’t know why I opened Right Move this evening. Curiosity more than anything. I regret it now, because property prices around here are just… ridiculous… impossible… eye-watering!

Alhamdulilah that we have a roof over our heads. How the next generation will manage, though? Would we be able to assist our children to purchase their first home? Only in so much as they can stay here as long as they need to.

The cost of living is a worry. University fees weigh on my mind. We’re not set up for this new world order. My own failings decades ago come back to haunt me daily. My experience a salutary lesson for the kids on the importance of laying firm foundations.

Icy cold

For obvious reasons — an apparent shortage of supply and spiralling prices — we’ve not yet been putting the heating on. Instead, my wife has bought all of us big, fleecey dressing gowns, so that we wander around the house looking like Henry VIII. If it gets really, really cold, there’s always that supply of a gazillion logs which caused me to go into meltdown this time last year. But that’s only an option of last resort, if wearing two jumpers and a fleece doesn’t help.

So it was, going to bed last night, condensation thick on the window panes, breathing in the icy air, that memories were wrought of a freezing winter’s night a decade ago. We were staying in my mother-in-law’s village house in a forested valley inland of the eastern shores of the Black Sea. There was a wood burning stove in the kitchen, still used for cooking, and an electric heater in the living room, around which we would huddle for warmth before bed.

But at bedtime we would have to venture on into the cold hall, off which were four bedrooms, hardly changed since the days my wife’s late father had built the house decades earlier. The wooden window frames were the originals he had put in, by then rickety, ill-fitting and starting to rot. The single-glazed panes would keep out the rain, but not the cold, as evidenced by my family’s evening routine. Having remained in Turkey since summer, my wife and children were well used to this nightly adventure, but I had just arrived on a plane from England.

The routine comprised of us all getting dressed for bed, wearing two pairs of trousers, four jumpers, thick woollen socks, a scarf and hat, then burying ourselves under a pile of heavy homemade duvets, filled with sheep’s wool. In one bed, my wife and two infants, snuggled together, me in the other one by the door. Cozy, certainly, as the wind whistled through the window frames, a unique indoor fog hanging around us. Before dawn, rising for fajr prayer, there was wudu to contend with, the bathroom taps fed by the natural mountain spring outside. Not only was there no hot water, there was no averagely cold water either: only that fearsome super-chilled flow.

In the morning of that first night there, I rose telling my wife that I would go down to town and pay for double-glazing for the entire house there and then. My wife was reluctant to do that, but I won her over by arguing that it was unacceptable that her mother was living in such conditions all year around. Unfortunately, those intentions were overruled by a sister-in-law staying in the house, who had other plans completely. Thus the rotting frames remained for another five years, until we finally put our feet down and had the job done anyway.

I do know cold from my own life. For the first five years living in our little house here we had to be content with the original glazing too, those wooden frames also starting to rot. We had put central heating in when we first moved in, but replacing the windows would have to wait until we had repaid our loans. Even so, there is cold and there is cold. The cold we experienced that winter a decade ago was significant, but even that was not the extreme cold experienced by those without shelter, amongst them refugees and the homeless.

If you can, consider making a donation to a charity supporting those living without warmth this winter. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Warmth

A year ago, I had a serious meltdown when a well-meaning friend deposited what was basically a whole tree in front of my garage door. I sort of exploded and exchanged incensed words with him, demanding that he take it away. Everyone was a bit surprised by the quiet man’s rage.

Anyhow, a year on, with heating bills soaring, I probably ought to thank him for our humongous supply of logs, now chopped, seasoning in the wood shed.

It is kind of cozy, stretching out on the sofa beside my wife’s toasty stove. Certainly better than being hunched over my laptop to complete my day’s work at 9.00pm.

Maybe I’ll muster an apology for that unfortunate evening last November, when I lost all sense of perspective and self-control.

Bodger

“Now that you’ve done the decorating… are you going to put coving up? It’ll look nice.”

“Not unless you want to hear a lot of shouting and swearing! Better leave that one to the professionals.”

“Why do you say that? I’m happy with the jobs you’ve done so far.”

This is where I glance around at my house full of bodges. “I’ll think about it,” I say, which is the diplomatic way of saying, “Not on your nelly!”

O sabırlı değil

My love is speaking to her niece in Turkey. She knows I can hear and understand.

“Your uncle’s painting the house,” she tells her. “He’s doing a great job. The only thing he needs to work on is his patience.”

The last part is true. I shout a lot during DIY.. Family had to go out to flee my hot temper.

I guess I’ll have to work on that. Sabret. Sakin ol.

Let there be light

When we built our extension and rejigged the layout of our house a decade ago, we didn’t pay enough attention to the natural light coming in. We had young children both under five then and just wanted to get the job done with minimal expense and fuss.

Continue reading “Let there be light”