Tuesday, April 03, 2007
I've had plenty to say in the past about unusual and/or unpleasant pizza toppings, but I'm afraid an even higher standard has been set. Without further ado, let me show you a pizza flyer that recently appeared at Dunce Manor:
Yes, it appears to be an ordinary pizza, topped with pepperoni, green peppers, onions, and GIGANTICALLY HUGE SLICES OF LIME. A very unpleasant combination indeed. Oddly enough, lime does not actually feature in any of the pizzas on offer. So I started wondering why someone might have decided to call their company "Pizza Lime" if lime cannot actually be purchased as a pizza topping.
Googling the phrase "pizza lime" gives very little info, except that "Pizza Lime" is apparently the name given to the monthly discussion forum held by the Trinidad & Tobago Computer Society (originally held at Pizza Hut until the computerers were forced away by price increases). I didn't think that helped all that much, so then I turned to my old friend the OED. Maybe there's a sense of "lime" I'm not aware of.
Starting with the verbs, there are all sorts of senses which could, in principle, be applied to pizza. But most of them less than appealing. There's Lime(verb, 1), 2a: "To smear ... with bird-lime, for the purpose of catching birds", 4: "to foul, defile", and any number of other senses related to CaO. But not really anything you'd want near your pizza (the citrus version a far lesser evil). Or maybe Lime(verb, 3), "to impregnate (a bitch)". Hmmm... a home-delivery pizza might be an aphrodisiac in certain circumstances, but I doubt this is their intent. Or else Lime(verb, 4), "to hang about the streets" (all examples of this term in the OED come from Trinidad, Tobago or Barbados). Pizza you eat while carnally loitering, befouled in bird-lime. Mmmm good. So maybe "lime" is a noun.
I think I've already safely ruled out Lime(noun, 1): CaO and other various noxious substances you really don't want to have on a pizza. Lime(noun, 2) is the citrus fruit (Citrus Medica, var. acida, and some of its relatives), which is the leading contender so far (I've ruled out the sense of lime as a lime-green color since the pictured pizza is not green). Lime(noun, 3) is no better: the tree also known as linden. Maybe the obsolete sense Lime(noun, 4) "Limit, end" (one solitary example in the OED, from ~1420), or the only remaining one, Lime(noun, 5) "colloquial abbreviation of 'limelight'", mainly Australian. This is quite tenuous but is at least a better possibility than carnal befoulment.
Finally I took a wander over to a less exhaustively researched realm of linguistic information, the Urban Dictionary. The very first entry, well.... "A fanfiction or chapter of a fanfiction in which characters graphically fool around, but do not actually have sex.". But most of the rest come back to Trinidad, not just loitering, but in a pleasant sense of hanging out. So maybe it's like a Trini pizza party (in that case, it's too bad they didn't have any Trini pizzas on offer. The Lime Special contains mushroom, fresh garlic, pepperoni, spicy beef and red onion).
Of course one other possibility is that the term "lime" is a last-minute adjustment of some kind. Perhaps the shop was intended to be called "Pizza Time" but had to change its name due to an already-established competitor by that name or something similar. It would be quite easy to change a "Pizza Time" sign into one that says "Pizza Lime".
The one other odd thing about the flyer is that they give no physical address. I'm always very hesitant to order from a place whose location is totally unknown. I prefer to know which grim industrial estate is the source of my dinner.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Whose side are you on?
On my way home from work yesterday without anything to read, I resorted to having my intelligence insulted (then insulted some more, than spat and defecated upon) by picking up one of London's terrible free daily newspapers (see what I mean here). Turns out that it reported a news story directly relevant to my new neighborhood, where a large number of teenagers violently clashed in an after-school frenzy of fighting, stabbing and who knows what-all.1 There's coverage in our local newpaper here, but it fails to mention the most curious part of the story I read yesterday in the lighter-than-light free newspaper (which curiously seems to have only appeared in print, not in the online version available now [unless I hallucinated the whole thing. I know, I know, I should have kept a copy.]). According to my memory of this article, they reported that the conflict occurred between two main groups, one Turkish or Kurdish and the other Jamaican. Further, they reported that these groups were distinguished not only by their national origin, but by their choice of fashion accessories; one group favored Bob the Builder hats, and the other Thomas the Tank Engine.
Perhaps this detail is not factual, but I really like to think it is: thugs self-identifying with popular characters for the preschool set (for reasons completely unknown to me). And I'm very much looking forward to the extension of this trend to other groups and other characters. Care Bear Crips? Weeble Latin Kings? My Pretty Pony El Rukns?
1Readers of a nervous disposition may be relieved to know that this didn't actually happen on our doorstep, but instead near the movie theatres at the main shopping centre area some 15 minutes' walk away. Shopping malls are evil and dangerous; that's a take-home message we all can live with.
Monday, March 12, 2007
This weekend saw really nice, springlike weather so we finally got around to cleaning up our shed and back garden a little bit. We also had big plans for the cat: after just over two weeks being cooped up inside, it was to be her first day allowed outside. So we opened the door and waited for her to follow us out. Instead, she just peeked out the back door, then immediately scrambled for safety under the recliner in the living room. Where she stayed for the next five hours or so. Poor kitty.
But that didn't stop us; we lounged around the back garden reading the paper, moving plant pots around, and planting some tomato & zucchini seeds (the previous owner left all sorts of gardening goodies including one of those little portable mini-greenhouses, so we figured we may as well put at least a few of them to good use). Also found a stack of 33rpm records in the shed, unfortunately suffering badly from the shed's missing window (now temporarily repaired). An assortment of classic works including some classical (Beethoven, Chopin), some musicals (Mikado, Oliver!), and quite a bit of folk and traditional songs. We arranged them to dry out; surely some of them can be salvaged.
While we were puttering about in the garden, we got chatting to a neighbor who lives a few doors down (but whose flat shares a wall with ours... explain that if you can!). He's a very nice guy, even invited us over to his place for a BBQ. Conversations with neighbors?! Quite different from our previous homes around London. Turns out he works in the building trades, and bought his flat three years ago for pennies (it was a derelict wreck). He's put thousands into it, and loads of work, and there's still plenty to be done (attic conversion, roof replacement, never mind front stairs and front rooms which are still totally unfinished). But the rooms he's completed (lounge, kitchen, bathroom) gave us all sorts of large-scale ideas we might be able to think about doing sometime in the future (way, way in the future, though). All in all, a very nice meeting-the-neighbors occasion.
And oh yeah, we did have a new hot-water heater installed on Saturday. They arrived bright and early to do the work, and blazed right through without taking a break or anything. Before noon they'd installed the new heater, carted the old one away, and cleaned up at least a little bit of their mess. Except, well, one of our towels was full of solder and filth, assorted icky bits of residue could be found various places, and worst of all they'd made a mess out of our bathroom wall. The old heater had a very large hole for the flue; the new one required only a small hole. So they had to patch the remaining gap, which they did very poorly. I think they just used a large chunk of something wider than the brick in the wall, because it protrudes into the bathroom (giving the wall a lovely bulge). And outside is equally foul; they just did an extremely slapdash job on the wall (quite consistent with the stereotype of the British builder, I'm sorry to say). I really started to regret going with a local company to do the work, but it appears we will get some satisfaction after all; they have pledged to make the job good at no further cost to us. I will, however, reserve judgement until this actually happens.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
This afternoon I got to spent an hour or so idling about my department's common room, for entirely legitimate work-related purposes1 rather than simple laziness. A young gentleman of American extraction was also idling nearby, chatting to his girlfriend in a loud voice that practically demanded to be eavesdropped upon. Since my reading material was a complicated and dull paper I'm reviewing, I was quick to comply. Apparently some of his mates had recently seen him holding her purse, and quite clearly he was feeling hurt and defensive about their ridicule. "I was only being chivalrous, and you'd asked me to do it. I sure wouldn't have done it if you hadn't asked me to. And it's not like guys don't sometimes hold their girlfriend's purse for whatever reason, it's just something you've gotta do having a girlfriend." And so on and so on, listing other guys he knew who had, at one time or another, been seen holding their girlfriend's purse. He never actually came out admitted that the boys had seen him holding a purse and teaased him for being gay, but this was strongly implied throughout: "it would be different if I had a purse and was holding it, but it wasn't even mine!". He was getting so angry just discussing the topic I wished I had a purse, so I could bring it up to him and ask him if he'd dropped it by mistake. Unfortunately, eventually the girlfriend decided enough was enough and told him to shut up. Which meant I had to resume my reading.
1Helping to herd undergraduates between one of three testing locations, because today was our lab's annual oppportunity to test a large number of students at once without paying them. I was mainly responsible for the main waiting room, directing people to the right testing areas if they got lost, and making sure nobody wandered off in between sessions. Which meant occasionally standing up and telling one group to go down the hall, and otherwise sitting around reading (and eavesdropping).
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Since we moved into the Dunce Arms, posts here have been few and far between. Things have been really busy at work, and there's no shortage of things to do at home. As I mentioned in my last post, we started off with some bold plans, but reality quickly intervened. Instead we've been focusing on doing things gradually, focusing on those things most necessary to quality of life (facilities for eating, bathing, lounging, laundry and sleeping, perhaps not in that order). We've finally reached a point where most of the boxes are unpacked, though many things have not yet found their ideal locations yet. And a few windows are covered now (a couple of blinds, one set of curtains and another set hung temporarily in the living room so that "they" can't see in so well. And we've moved a bunch of luggage up to the attic, and moved items of furniture to their (mostly) permanent homes. And the cat seems to have (mostly) calmed down about all the new smells, noises and general strangeness.
There are still quite a few things still to come, such as a new bed (arriving next week, until which time we will get by with the sofa bed). And we still need to find more curtains, and down the line there's some really nasty wallpaper and carpets in certain places that will need to go really soon. And the back door frame is doing very poorly and needs to be replaced at some point. But then on Friday we had our first real fun excitement as homeowners... the lovely 30-year-old water heater decided to give up the ghost. Well, not exactly giving up the ghost, it just started spewing water (or at least a fast drip). Turns out an old repair on an old heater had finally given way. Fortunately this is an "instant" heater using only gas and not electricity, so it wasn't like a huge water tank suddenly gave way, but a continuous drip is a bad, bad thing. Plumbers jerked me around all day on Friday; eventually (at the end of the day) they claimed someone had left a message earlier in the day saying that no one would be able to come to my area that day (of course this happened at the end of Friday, when presumably they hoped to get me on a weekend call-out). The drip was slow enough we went through the weekend with the bucket system, and today a plumber (from a different company) finally came round to check it out. His opinion was that it must be replaced, and soon. To the tune of £1600, but fortunately for us they can do it in a day, given a day's notice. Can we say OUCH? The cat cowered under the chair at the sound of that, and I would have too if there was room for me. So it looks like we're going to be spending a hefty sum in the next few days. Looks like those jewel-encrusted bicycle tires will have to wait another week or two.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Well, it's done now... the Dunces have moved into their new home. We collected the keys a week ago today, and made our first visit to the flat right away. I have to say it was quite disheartening at first: Mrs G. (the previous owner) had lived there for 30 years, and with all of her things removed the whole place looked run-down, dated, and icky. And it didn't help that Mrs G had quite clearly been a smoker for many of those 30 years; white surfaces were no longer anywhere close to white. So quite clearly the first step was to buy a big-ol load of paint (lots of white, plus all the other colors for basically every indoor surface), and all the necessary accessories.
The next day I spent the morning tearing down a nasty built-in wardrobe in the main bedroom (revealing some serious nicotine coloration behind it), but had to go to work in the afternoon, while Mrs. Dunce slaved all day painting. In the evening we headed over to the old house to continue packing and cleaning (we'd finished most of the packing already, but it's amazing to see how many "left-overs" there can be. And then it was another day of painting. I seem to remember that I'm a very bad painter, but perhaps I'm mis-remembering the ineptitude of my brother (The Thief) as my own. After all, it is he who was well known for repeatedly "accidentally" stepping in paint trays so as to be barred from painting. In any event we proceeded slowly but surely, putting a few coats of paint here and there (the whole kitchen and bedroom ceiling, if you're keeping score). Our ambitious plans had slipped substantially by this point; we were instead focusing on the most urgent areas that needed to be usable by the time we moved in (kitchen and living room [UK "lounge"], the latter also serving as a bedroom until we buy a bed). I mention this like it was a very minor point and straightforward decision, but actually this decision process was full of anguish and despair as we wondered whether we would be able to manage even a tiny fraction of what needed to be done.
The next morning I had to work again (but really shouldn't have bothered as it turned out there was nothing urgent requiring my attention), and after lunch I headed out and collected the rental van. Let me tell you it's quite an experience driving a large van through the streets of London, especially if it's emblazoned with the name of a rental company, and also heavily dented and scratched already (it was that way when I got it...). Other drivers are amazingly polite in just about every way you can imagine, probably because they fear for their lives. We had some bold plans for the van: driving it out into the far reaches of northwest London to charity furniture shops which a co-worker (who happens to live in the far reaches of northwest London) recommended as fantastic sources of inexpensive second-hand furniture. We got an early afternoon start, but little did we know the journey would be long and arduous. We reached the first shop (in Kenton) about 3:30, but unfortunately it had practically nothing interesting (aside from a couple of dressers, but we were fully dressered already). And then we zoomed out to Watford, beyond the pages of our A-Z, only to find a nasty surprise: most of the car parks were multi-story, without enough headroom for a tall van. As we looped around a very unpleasant road system, the clock just kept on ticking toward the 5:00 closing time. By the time we found a place we could possibly park (perhaps illegally), it was too late. Talk about frustration; there we were, hours from home, without anything to show for it but a bag of subcontinental treats we collected at a fantastic grocery store along the way. The only thing to do was... a full-on trip to IKEA in Wembley. Maybe not the best choice after five or so hours of intense city driving but it had to be done. We staggered through, ending up with part of a wardrobe (the other part, we hoped, to be obtained from our local IKEA). And various other assorted necessities (and a few not-so-necessities). We really wanted a table and chairs, but IKEA's offerings were undesirable for various reasons, but we really wanted a table and chairs, so what were we going to do? The answer was to sleep on it.
The next morning we got up, heading toward our local(ish) IKEA (the infamous Edmonton location no less) to buy the remaining parts of the wardrobe, and a crummy table and chairs that would make do until we found something better (or, possibly, until they fell apart). But on the way there, eagle-eyed Mrs Dunce spotted a small second-hand shop/house clearance company, which had all sorts of cast-off furniture stacked around. And it just so happened that some of that cast-off furniture was a nice dining room set (table + 6 chairs, all in very good condition). We headed to IKEA anyway, and let me tell you, it's a joy to shop there in the middle of the day during the week (unlike weekends which are dire, and evenings which are still quite busy). Then a big grocery run (taking advantage of the van) and then off to the old house for one more round of packing and cleaning.
Saturday was the day of the big move, and the biggest of the big move items was our brand new sofa-bed. Which we purchased back in the holiday season, under the assumption that we would indeed be in possession of the new flat well in time for the January 29 estimated delivery date. Which would have meant that professional sofa movers would be the people moving it up the stairs, through the narrow hallway and into our living room. Instead they moved it into the old house, so we had to move it ourselves. I'd been having nightmares for weeks about this, because it's really, really heavy. And just barely small enough to fit through doorways (never mind the curve at the top of the stairs). Fortunately we had some macho lifting power on hand, in the form of our friend MJ. With quite a lot of effort we managed to get the sofa into the van (along with other items of furniture which were like feathers in comparison). And with superhuman effort we managed to lift it up the stairs; MJ doing the hard work, lifting from underneath, and me lifting/guiding from above. Then carefully edging it through the door at the top of the stairs, then coaxing it through the narrow doorway into the living room, where it will remain until it's no longer usable.
We spent the rest of the day moving all the rest of our things, with the aid of the Landlord (now ex-), and the Lodger (now ex-). The last thing we moved was the cat: just grabbed her, popped her in the carrier, and took her to the new place just like that. The rest of the day we did a small amount of arranging things so that the living room was fully livable (including use as a bedroom, using the sofa-bed until we get a real bed for the bedroom), and the kitchen somewhat in order. Imagine our surprise when we opened the sofa-bed for the first time, and found a sheet containing simple instructions: REMOVING THE BED MECHANISM FROM THE SOFA IN SEVEN EASY STEPS. So our superhuman effort lifting the sofa-bed up the stairs could have been divided in two. I get the idiot-of-the-week award for that one. Anyway, the first night in the new place went fine, except for poor Zosi. She was very worried about the new house, carefully creeping around, sniffing everything, and starting or growling at every little strange noise. At some point in the night she started with a miserable crying/meowing sound and just wouldn't stop. Fortunately things have improved since then, as she's become more confident about the new flat, even finding nice places to perch and observe things.
Sunday wasn't a day of rest either, as it was the (ex-)Landlord's moving day. Fortunately he didn't have nearly as many things to move, and none were anywhere close to the sofa-bed (although a huge, huge carton completely full of books was not exactly easy to shift). And then we were able to retire to the new flat, loaded with aches and pains, and good for nothing except watching some of Keanu's finest work on TV (the Bill & Ted sequel whose name I'm just too tired to check on IMDB, and then Point Break). Oh yeah, one of the absolute necessities in the new flat is a shower. Mrs. G was apparently a bath-only person, and that just won't work for us. But the current taps and pipes look like they haven't been touched in years, and I'm deathly afraid of breaking something while trying to shut off the water to put in new taps. So for now we're making do with one of those shower heads that fits over the regular taps, and probably getting professional help. I've returned to work now, while Mrs Dunce is doing one more day of painting (bedroom walls).
There are so many things we still need to do; very high on the list being "post some photos". Patience, grasshopper; photos will come soon enough.
Monday, February 19, 2007
We just got the word, everything is finished and we can pick up the keys to the new flat this afternoon! A good thing as we've been very busy packing up all of our stuff (and cleaning the house, the Landlord will be pleased to hear).
Pictures to follow soon (if I can see through the paint flecks/spatters on my glasses to post them).
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I get all kinds of spam these days, despite any number of filtering/marking schemes. But today I received a message from the best spammer name of all time: Firmness K. Joystick.
Three guesses what he was trying to sell me.
Other good recent names include Holden Burns, Bishop N. Desfunction [sic], Snider Mat, Frailey G. Neblett, and Hockaday U. Sunday.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Another one of those odd little differences between US and UK English caught my ear again the other evening, when I overheard someone (UK) talking about a family acquaintance: "Their youngest son is called William". It caught my ear because it still sounds strange to me; my snap judgement about my own use of "called" goes something like this: "a dog is called Spot, a person is named William (although you might call him Will)." The use of "call" seems sort of OK in other contexts ("Will they call their son William?" seems just as good as "Will they name their son William?", and maybe even better), but the original example seems vaguely amiss for some reason. It seems to me that this sort of use of "call" (referring to someone's given name) is much more common in UK than in US English. Some of my linguistically savvy colleagues from the UK concur; they would never say "he is named William" (Or at least they claim they would never say it) but only "He is called William" or "His name is William".
It's a little hard to find information on this contrast online: there are so many situations where legal documents use phrases like "called or named", and also numerous instances referring to translated texts where an original term in another language covers both possibilities in English (most of the web texts that came up were related to Biblical translation, but this also seems to be the case for Old English "yclept" and "hight"). But eventually I did find at least some online discussions about this distinction many of which fail to recognize that there are dialectal differences (in addition to whatever other points the writers are making), leading to comments like this one where a (US English) writer seems particularly upset when he sees "call" used in this way: "Any time I read something like this where a person is "called" and then it lists their name, it just sounds so wrong and ignorant. I would argue that there's no option, exception, or exemption for not writing or saying it as 'The CEO was NAMED John Smith.'". A follow-up post suggests that "call" should only be used when it does not refer to someone's given name (it's ok for nicknames, aliases, and so on). Neither of these posters gave any suggestions about the penalties for violating this rule, but I'd imagine they would be quite serious indeed (drawing/quartering/heads on pikes)*.
Not all discussions on this matter are restricted to colonial prescriptivists. This discussion, for example, includes comments from US and UK speakers (tending toward the view that "called" is somewhat less acceptable in US English). Or this discussion, a seriously anoraky exchange about the TV series Firefly, concerning whether a character referred to as "the Shepherd" might be using the name "Book" as an alias ("[he] never actually says his name: 'Book. I'm called Book.'"). The discussion wanders into the basic priciple of magic, questions of identity, whether the use of "called" has been established in the Firefly lexicon as carrying any particular meaning, and so on, before one quite sensible suggestion that this may simply reflect Anglophilic tendencies on the part of the writer rather than being laden with deep meaning (cf. the calling of Paul).
Of course there's also the question of "called" vs. "named" for inanimate entities, which I think sheds some light on the UK usage for humans too. This discussion on Englishforums.com is about whether a computer file or website should be called or named, e.g. "blah.html". In this case it seems to be fairly well agreed: when it is being assigned its name in the first place, "named" would be used, but subsequent reference would use "called": I named the file "blah.html", and nobody has changed its name since then so it is still called "blah.html". This seems to be the same as the UK use of "named" for humans; its use is restricted to the assignment of a name in the first place. Thenceforth that person can only be called by that name, as naming has already happened. So the question really is why "named" is used less restrictively by US English speakers when it comes to referring to people by name.
* Right on cue comes a lovely posting on the Language Log about just how to deal with this kind of rage: The 12 step program in language anger management
Monday, February 05, 2007
Not far from our new flat is one of the most unusual combinations of ethnic cuisine I've ever seen in one place:
("Dardana Chinese and Albanian food": photo linked from mattsal.com)
I'm not at all familiar with Albanian cuisine, but a skim of a few websites (marga.org, wikipedia, boston phoenix) suggests it's not a million miles away from Greek/Turkish/other Middle Eastern cuisines (one Albanian restaurant featuring caged animals should probably not define the cuisine). And has very little in common with Chinese food (at least, any variety I can think of). There are a couple of Chinese restaurants in Albania (Asian restaurants in Tirana), but their descriptions suggest there's nothing particularly Albanian about them besides their location. I have no way of knowing whether there are any Albanian restaurants in China, but I would suspect there are not many. Leading me to wonder whether this particular establishment is (literally) unique (no doubt this claim will be quickly debunked by someone out there, perhaps by an expert on Sino-Albanian relations).
I imagine that it's not really a fusion restaurant in the typical sense of the term (grape leaves stuffed with Peking duck? Sweet & sour chicken with olives and boiled eggs?), but more likely offers an Albanian menu, plus a Chinese takeaway menu to pay the bills. We'll just have to see what happens when we finally (inevitably) pay a visit.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The Dunces now have a flat. Not flat tire, silly, "flat" as in apartment. Or maisonette if you'd prefer. We get the keys on February 19th ("th" intentionally included to needle a certain sort of prescriptivist).
Now it's all easy; we just have to do simple things like installing shelves, a shower, removing a built-in wardrobe, painting and decorating, figuring out where to put everything, and all the other sorts of things that need to be done in a new place. No doubt I'll mention many of these again on these pages, probably in the context of reporting injuries of a slapstick nature.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Warning: this entry contains explicit descriptions of property-buying arrangements. Readers of a non-middle-aged persuasion should perhaps look elsewhere for the time being, or risk being bored stiff.
The past couple of months have been a very stressful time in Dunce-land as we come closer... and closer... and closer... and closer to actually purchasing a flat. Back at the beginning of December it seemed like things were ready to work out. We had received the results of a building survey which revealed nothing particularly problematic as far as we were concerned, but just minor problems we were already aware of (like a door frame that needs to be replaced, decorative elements somewhat less than currently stylish, the attic is perhaps not all that nice, and so on). The survey also pointed out a number of points, apparently very ordinary in nature, that needed to be dealt with by the solicitors for both parties (things like searches of deeds and records, any history of damage, whether the seller has any guarantees on anything that will pass to us, service contracts, blah blah blah-de-blah-de-blah). We asked our solicitors to check on these things, and then we waited.
And waited some more. A bit before Christmas we got a festive call from the estate agent, asking us what was going on as the other parties involved were beginning to get a bit antsy. They wanted to complete the deal early in January, he said. We replied that this would be fine with us; our solicitors had requested some apparently-routine information and things would no doubt be moving along soon. Of course, our solicitor's office was closed for the Christmas period by then, so our email enquiry was not answered until the New Year. It seems that the seller's solicitor had not yet deigned to reply. Allegedly, of course. Our solicitors promised to chase them by letter and phone in the hope of sorting things out. Did I mention we bought an expensive sofabed just after Christmas, to be delivered in 4-6 weeks. No problem, we thought, we can just have it delivered to the new place.
Conversations with the estate agent continued regularly, and gained further urgency, because the current owner of the property we are purchasing is also buying a place. The sellers of said place appear to be the antsy ones, threatening to pull out of the deal entirely unless things move along soon. It also started to become clear that the seller's solicitor was (allegedly) a difficult character indeed, according to both the estate agent and our solicitor. He's apparently quite keen to avoid telephone calls, and when finally reached is especially free with vulgarities and insults directed at anyone who is trying to make his life miserable. At one point he apparently stated that he was no longer willing to correspond with our solicitors, accused by him of "talking in riddles", and repeatedly asking all sorts of stupid, pointless questions (those questions that were portrayed as "ordinary" by our surveyor) but also being condescending and rude, when they tried to clarify the confusion.
In the meantime, the level of antsiness had reached an all-time high, with the unknown sellers finally deciding they'd had enough. Either we'd all exchange contracts on 30-January (observant readers will note that this is today's date), or they'd pull out of the whole thing and leave us all to start over again (or so said the estate agent, who, it should be noted, has a very significant interest in having the whole transaction completed ASAP). Fortunately (?) for us, at least some conversation continued between the solicitors, so last week we finally received a large packet of information from our solicitor (containing the contract, payment details, all sorts of details about the property, and a bit of correspondence between the solicitors, further suggesting that the characterization of the seller's solicitors as "difficult" was neither inaccurate nor unfair). Some of this was a pleasant surprise, such as learning that the seller planned to leave some items behind (like a refrigerator, for example, which we thought for sure we'd need to buy ourselves). But we were also informed that one of the longest-running sticking points was still sticking.
The flat we are buying is on the first floor (second floor as they say in the USA), but has access to the rear garden (yard as they say in the USA) via a set of stairs. The lease, however, says nothing about these stairs (which actually appear to encroach upon the downstairs neighbors' garden). Our solicitors quite rightly inquired about the status of these stairs: whether the current resident used them for any purpose and whether we would require access rights to them. This was apparently a riddle worthy of the Sphinx; the seller's solicitor replied that "like most people, the current occupant accesses her flat by the front door". And on, and on, and more on. But apparently the end of the saga of the stairs is in sight; Mrs. Dunce spoke to the estate agent again this morning, and there appears to be a meeting point between a two-sentence clause and a six-sentence clause of a somewhat incoherent nature (three guesses whose is whose). Anyway, having been assured that things would be put in order, yesterday we made some major steps.
Our first stop was the bank, where our bulging bank account was instantly deflated as we zapped every last penny (or so it seemed, anyway) to the solicitors' account. Our second stop was the post office to rush the signed contract to the solicitor. I really shouldn't mention the third stop which was a lunchtime drink at the nearby bowling alley (I should note that lunchtime drinking is a totally extraordinary activity for both of the Dunces, although there were a number of lunchtime revellers also present, for whom this might be a more regular event). And oh yeah, one of the additional requirements of the whole thing, of which we had remained blissfully unaware until receiving the information packet a few days back, was that we were required to insure the property from the moment at which we exchanged contracts (perhaps this very moment). So we had one additional scramble to get insurance in place on short notice. It's not easy, especially when you don't actually have complete information on the property (do all the doors and accessible windows have British standard locks? Heck if we know. And so on). We still managed to do some quick comparison shopping, answered questions carefully (if we didn't know the answer, we chose the less secure option so that the insurance would remain valid if something happened before we figured things out). So our yet-to-be-purchased property is now insured by us.
So it appears that contracts will indeed be exchanged today, although the completion date (i.e., when we get the keys) remains to be decided as far as I know. Then we'll begin all the fun of moving, installing shelves and shower, decorating, and figuring out all the quirks of the new place (never mind the challenge of keeping the cat indoors for a certain period, so she won't work her way back to the old home place a la Poco). Did I mention it's all been a bit overwhelming? And I didn't even mention the phone call on Saturday from the freeholder, who wants to sell it to us, really soon, at a very fair price of £7.5K (No I am not being sarcastic; this does actually appear to be a fair price). If only we hadn't spent all our money on the place itself....
All that said, I think we'll wait until we have the keys before planning a housewarming bash.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Most of this winter has been unseasonably warm, so there was actually some joy in the Dunce house when the temperatures finally dropped to "real winter" temperatures near or even slightly-below freezing. Perhaps it's because both of us spent many years in the midwest, where Winter actually means something serious (I recall various playground discussions about just how long it takes a person to die at temperatures of X below zero; at what temperature the cool kids will start wearing knit caps; how some kid's brother knows this guy whose friend's private parts got stuck to a metal fence and then an ambulance had to come and they chopped it off and left the aforementioned bits frozen to the fence and a dog came along and ate them so he had to have a sex change and then transfer to another school.... but I digress). One of the best things about winter is, of course, SNOW. Quite rare in these parts these days, which makes the possibility of snowfall even more exciting.
Over the past few years, we've developed a regular competition (which will come as no surprise to any members of our families, I'm sure): the first person to see falling snow each winter is the winner, and receives a prize from the other (as with most Dunce competitions, it's a food-related prize). Exact details are agreed upon sometime in autumn when temperatures start dropping towards "wintry" [in London terms, anyway]). A few simple rules govern this competition, mainly in order to avoid questionable/unfair instances of snow-spotting (Dunces are quite fond of loopholes of various kinds). For example, snowfall must be viewed from the ground, or from a building (flurries viewed only from an airplane are not permissible, unless the airplane is on the ground). Any Dunces traveling separately to other locations (i.e., outside of London) may only win the snow competition if their locations are agreed (in advance) to be reasonably comparable with respect to the likelihood of snowfall. Dunces traveling together to a location outside London must agree whether said location qualifies for inclusion in the snow-spotting competition (most places in southern England, probably YES. Places where snow would be a total fluke, probably YES in the event someone sees such a rare event). Places where snow is possible, likely, or already on the ground, almost certainly NO. Of course a separate competition in such circumstances is always possible). If Dunces are away when the first actual snowfall on London occurs, the competition continues (as the winner is the first person to see falling snow, NOT the first person to see the first falling snow). Snow must also be viewed in person, or through a window (a formal definition of "window" has not been made, but I can assure you that televisions, computers, snow globes, paintings, photographs do not qualify as windows for the purpose of the competition). Precipitation must be agreed by competitors as "snow" in order to qualify (it is well-known that mist, sleet, hail and ice may closely resemble snow: in the event of a claim of "first snow sighting", the loser must agree that, indeed, snow has been sighted. Sore losers and difficult parties may be smacked, and will certainly find the situation more difficult next year if they persist). The sighting of the first snowfall must be announced as soon as reasonably possible, by various means as the situation permits (a proud announcement in person being preferred [if it occurs in the middle of the night, it appears permissible to wake up your fellow competitor, although gloating may be a bit much], but announcement by telephone, text message, email or other means is also acceptable. Falsifying this information [e.g. by changing the time on one's computer to send an email with an earlier time/date] is a serious offense and will be punished by torture and/or death). There are probably a few other rules I haven't touched on, but these provide the simple groundwork.
Anyway, this year's first snow happened this week, right on schedule according to the weather reports: it started falling sometime very early Wednesday morning, and by the time we both got up, an inch or so had fallen already, and a bit more was still on the way down. We were both quite aware that snow was expected, and had both been on a high level of readiness for a few days. But when it comes to morning hours, well perhaps the most charitable way to put it is that Dunces' mental processes slow to a crawl. And the penny didn't drop until we heard the morning weather report on the radio which mentioned winter storms throughout the UK affecting people's morning commutes, and even a specific mention of snow falling on London RIGHT THIS MINUTE. I may have jumped out of bed a little bit faster, but was slowed down because I had to grab my glasses first. We pulled aside the blinds, saw the snow, and shouted "SNOW" at exactly the same time (perhaps high-tech finish-line equipment would have recorded a difference [most likely in my favor]), so this year's competition was a dead heat. As we had no provisions for tie-breaking, this year there are only losers.
I was so miserable at this outcome that I didn't even go to work. Just stayed home moping all day. And I'm still there now, waiting to die. Or, truth be known, I worked at home and waited for our new sofa to be delivered. It was delivered; it's quite nice, and life as we know it continued just fine. But that's hardly an appropriate epilogue.