Journal – May-June 2016

Welcome back to another set of journal entries. Things were pretty quiet between February and April, hence I’ve waited until now to do an update. So there’s plenty to mention here, including good news about our planned house move, my first proper attempts at blogging, some notes about the elections and EU referendum, and more. I hope you enjoy!

Monday May 23, 2016

Ok, so it’s been ages since I wrote in here, but then I’ve been waiting for something substantial to say. And, fingers crossed, I think I finally can.

As far as work goes, it’s been mainly financial year-end and electoral work, especially as we’ve had 2 lots of elections one after the other. Earlier this month we had the Mayoral Referendum, the Police & Crime Commissioner Election, and a local by-election.

Turnout wasn’t great for the May elections – about 25% – but those who did vote decided that they no longer want a mayor in Torbay. So when Gordon Oliver’s term ends in 2019, it will go back to an executive board of the Council. The key difference is that the mayor is elected by the public, whereas the leader of the Council is chosen by the other Councillors (who are publicly elected). But while the mayor has to fulfil his entire term, the leader of the Council can be ousted by the other Councillors at any time. And I think it’s the right decision. The mayor isn’t serving a vital purpose and there are still lots of budget cutbacks required right now, and as the Councillors will exist one way or the other, that seems perfectly adequate to run the Council.

As for the Police & Crime Commissioner, very few people really care about them or know who they are, but we have a woman now, one of a number of Conservatives being investigated by police over expenses claims for last year’s General Election. But she hasn’t stepped despite that initial scandal.

Meanwhile, London have elected a new Mayor to replace Boris Johnson. We now have Sadiq Khan, who seems good from what little coverage I’ve seen. Naturally there are some people complaining with the usual nonsense purely because he’s a Muslim, and the campaign by his closest rival got pretty nasty. But he didn’t let the haters stop him, and I get the impression he’ll be alright. Time will tell.

And now the next big one is the EU referendum, which has been all over the news, and will continue to be until this time next month. It’s pretty boring though, and the ultimate fact is that nobody knows what will happen afterwards. Both the Leave and Remain sides are engaging in scare-mongering tactics, and it’s getting rather silly. And it’s impossible to know what the right answer is really, if there even is one.

And the government are struggling in other ways too. For example, the row over a new contract for Junior Doctors has been going on for months, with many strikes across the NHS. The term ‘Junior Doctors’ is very misleading really, as a lot of them are long-standing professionals. They’re just ‘junior’ relative to the consultants who manage them. The contract includes arrangements for weekend working and has caused all sorts of upset, yet the government haven’t budged despite all the complaints. It sounds like they have finally reached some sort of deal now, but we’ll have to see. Maybe the government have made yet another u-turn, of which there have been a lot recently e.g. abandoning plans to turn all schools into academies.

Anyway, back at home, and talking of London earlier brings me to my other news. It’s taken a lot of prodding, including threats to get other people in, but our builder has finally completed the work we wanted him to do, particularly the gutters outside and a few little bits and pieces inside the house. Ok, the roof still isn’t perfect, but it only leaks very occasionally now, if the rain’s really heavy and blowing in the right direction. We’re happy to knock a bit off the sale price if need be.

So with that work done, we’re finally getting ready to call estate agents in, and we want to go as soon as possible. Last week we got a 4-ton skip from ABC Siddalls (our builder recommended them to us), which sat very nicely in our driveway, and we filled it up completely. During the year we had already been getting rid of things bit by bit in the fortnightly wheelie-bin collection, including all the vinyl records. We could have tried selling them, but that would have been a lot of time and hassle. And a colleague at work did offer to take them, but never bothered despite numerous reminders. So we were just happy to get rid of them. Dad’s medals and stamp collections went as well, but we’ve kept his coins, as they might be worth something. I didn’t know what most of his medals were for, so they don’t have any major value or purpose to me, and the stamps weren’t in great condition.

In any case, it was just as well we got rid of some stuff in advance, because not everything would have fitted in the skip otherwise. There were some panels in the back garden, from work our builder had done previously, a CCTV I had to connect to an older computer, the chair from the living room, my old surround sound DVD player, old Christmas trees, and all sorts of other bits and pieces. We filled bags with stuff as well, and got it all ready before the skip came. So it just took me a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon to get everything in the skip, and it all went in just nicely. So the skip was delivered on Thursday, I filled it on Saturday, then they took it back on Tuesday. That really helped to clear out all the big stuff.

Then, this past week, I’ve had Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off, plus today (Monday), giving us 6 days at home to clean the house as best we can. So I’ve been wiping surfaces, hoovering and cleaning windows (inside and outside), while Mum’s been doing as much as she can too. There are lots of places she can’t reach or see easily of course, so it’s been very handy having me at home. It’s been a very productive week off.

Of course, cleaning stuff out means finding things and reminiscing a bit. And the most significant item we talked about was the small stool in Mum’s bedroom – with the wooden legs, and the weaved red and blue seat, which we’ve had as long as I can remember. And that’s because Mum made it herself – well, the weaved seat part anyway, someone else did the legs. She made it when she was staying at the RNIB’s Manor House in Torquay many years ago, and that was where she met Dad.

Small, square, flat stool with wooden legs. Seat has alternating blue and red pattern. From each edge, triangular arrow shapes of alternating colour and increasing size work towards the centre, which is a red X shape joining all the corners.

So that was interesting to be reminded of, and it’s given me something to blog about as well. Back in September last year I mentioned that I’d made a blog post and video for Scope’s End The Awkward campaign about interacting with disabled people, but I haven’t had a chance to mention things on that front since. Well, it got a surprisingly good reaction, and Scope very kindly included an extract in their compilation video.

So back in February I decided to try blogging properly, starting with posts about living with aniridia and nystagmus, and I’ve since been writing about other things relating to visual impairment, including language, taking offence, growing in confidence, Guide Dog access denials, audio description & DVD navigation, a chat with a taxi driver, audiobooks, Ten Tors and that post about Manor House, along with a post about the many celebrity deaths we’ve already had this year, and replying to the VIP Tag & VIP Daily Living Tag where I answer questions set by other bloggers. I don’t know if many people will read it all or how long I’ll feel inspired to write things, but early reactions seem positive and it’s giving me something interesting to do.

Anyway, now that we’ve done the cleaning as best we can, we’re now ready to get estate agents in at long last. Our barber has recommended one to us as he knows the manager there, but we’ll obviously get a few in to do valuations before we decide on anything. I’ve kept work updated as well of course, and they’ve said that homeworking is still fine (they had suggested it to me, as they’re keen to keep me on). They’ve been looking at the best way to do it, and it sounds like I’ll get a laptop through which I connect to the network over a dedicated ADSL line (which they’ll pay to have installed), and can use remote desktops to log in to my computer and any other computers I need access to. That will be a lot easier and quicker than using Citrix, which not all software is compatible with (particularly some of the specialist software we use), and it’s generally slower. So that sounds promising.

Of course, everyone realises it’s the beginning of the end for my Council employment, as they’re all expecting me (and I’m hoping) to get a better job in London eventually. And that worries some of them, knowing that they’ll have to rely on other people for things, unless someone is found to replace me. Still, I’m sure they’ll manage, they’ll have to!

A colleague from our department retired earlier this year, incidentally, and celebrated it by going on a cruise with a new gentleman friend. We have got a couple of apprentices though, one of whom has been doing some of the Indesign and printing work that the retired colleague used to do, as well as working in the post room, and the other isn’t quite so enthusiastic but has been working in the post room too. Another guy has also been working in the studio more with us as well, which is good, as me and him have similar senses of humour and get on well.

So things are finally changing, and I’m hoping that we’ll finally be able to move soon. We can’t go anywhere until after the EU referendum’s done next month, as I can’t disappear in the middle of all that electoral work. But once it’s done, we want to go as soon as we can. So we’ll see what happens. Hopefully the next time I write in here, there will be more positive progress to report.

Friday June 3, 2016

Another quick update, as things are moving forward significantly now. Our builder came round again this week to do some final jobs – replacing the bathroom tap (which wasn’t turning on properly), shaving the underside of the kitchen door (which was scraping the floor a bit) and removing the wonky blind in the loft (which is fine, as I can use boxes to block out any sunlight temporarily). Mum has also got rid of some old glasses that we found in the loft, and we were able to dispose of some old clothes in a bag posted through our door by a cancer charity, so that was good.

With all that done, I’ve been considering estate agents, and sent valuation requests off to a few this morning via their websites (with Mum’s phone number and email for them to contact her). Bradleys got back to us within half an hour, and we booked an appointment for next Friday afternoon. Going by their website, videos, online reviews and general reputation, they seem to be by far the best.

Then Taylors rang within about 10 minutes of me sending their form off, and we booked an appointment for the following Tuesday afternoon. They’re a relatively new company formed in 2014 by members of the old Coast & Country agents. So they’re a ‘wild card’ option really, who we probably won’t go for – Mum didn’t feel the secretary who rang her was as confident or knowledgeable as the Bradleys one. But their valuation will still be useful.

Williams Hedge was the third, as they look quite good online, but they haven’t got back to us today. Hopefully they will, but if not we’ll either settle with Bradleys if they seem acceptable, or I’ll look for a third agent to get an extra valuation from, just to be sure. I’ve avoided Connells, as a colleague of mine knows someone who had a really bad experience with them. He did recommend an online company called Purple Bricks, who I’ve glanced at, and another colleague has suggested checking out online agents as well. But Mum and I don’t feel fully confident using an online agent, even if they are cheap. They might be perfectly good, and would probably send employees round in person to talk to you. But we like the personal approach, and the ability to walk into an office to see people.

I’ve also avoided Barbets, who our barber recommended, and one or two others, because they advertise on a website called On The Market. It’s a legitimate website set up collaboratively by a number of agents, but it’s too restrictive and it’s not well-known like Zoopla, Right Move and Prime Location, which is where millions of people visit regularly and where you want to be. If an agent uses On The Market, then they have to advertise only on that website for a day or two, delaying your advert going out elsewhere – and even then it can only be posted on one of the other sites. So you get a much more limited audience it seems.

So we’ll wait and see how those valuations go. We could have booked earlier appointments, but we’ve got a lot of postal vote work going on for the EU referendum that I need to be in the office for. After that I’ll book off half days for these appointments, and try to use half days for any other occasions when I need to be at home, so I don’t use too much holiday at once.

That said, it looks like I will be going up to London for 2 or 3 days in the first week of July. My best mate is flying over for his wife’s birthday, and staying with her for a few days. Then he’s going to come into London to stay with another friend from university – but he’d like to stay with me for one day as well, as that will make his travelling easier and give us a chance to hook up for a day. So that’ll be cool. And in other good news, after having interviews with 2 companies, his wife has taken a job as a Senior Accounts Administrator in Guernsey. So she’ll be moving there properly towards the end of August, and starting work in September. I’m very glad, though not at all surprised given her experience, that it worked out so quickly for her.

I also spoke to my Aunt tonight to let her know we were looking to move up there, so we just have to keep her posted now. She’s happy for Mum or I to buy her half of Nan’s house – and it will probably be me, so that both our names are on the deeds, and then I’ll get Mum’s half when she dies. And we know the house needs plenty of work doing on it, but I said to her that we just want to get up there and then we’ll sort things out ourselves from there, which she’s happy with. Our builder said to Mum again this week that he’s happy to come up to do some work for us, so we’re talking about getting him up there to do the electrics and the plumbing in particular. We’ll have to get proper firms in to do things like double-glazing and central heating of course.

So the wheels are in motion at last, and hopefully things will go smoothly. It helps greatly that we’ve got a house ready for us to move into, so that takes a lot of the stress out of it. We’ll have to make to do with the fact that it’s not perfect, but it’s home to Mum, and it’s a second home to me, so we will be comfortable and happy there.

Friday June 24, 2016

We’re coming out. Polling for the EU referendum took place yesterday, and this morning’s result has come as a shock to a lot of people. Out of the 46,501,241 people who were eligible to vote, there was a 72.2% turnout, with 51.9% (17,410,742) voting to leave, and 48.1% (16,141,241) voting to remain. David Cameron has resigned, saying he wants the country to have a new leader by the time of the Conservative Party Conference in October, while European leaders have been caught off-guard and aren’t happy. In Torbay, 63% voted to leave. Most of London voted to stay in though, as did Exeter, the South Hams, Bristol and all of Scotland (so there’s talk of another independence referendum for them being possible). The stock markets were shaken up as well, with the share indexes falling and the pound’s value against the dollar dropping, although the figures have already started to recover a bit.

I don’t know if the result is the right decision or not. There’s been so much fear and scaremongering though, on both sides, that a lot of people are very afraid and nervous. But the decision has been made, and we need to deal with it and work through it. It’s too early to judge what the future will look like, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

So that’s been the big news today, and will continue to be so for a few more days I’m sure. It’s a relief that all the campaigning is over though, that’s for sure! But for me there’s something far more important going on anyway. We’ve taken a big step forward with our moving plans this month, having had 3 agents round to give us valuations.

The first was a guy from Bradleys, and he was very nice, suggesting we put the property on the market for £165,000. He also recommended keeping the place furnished so that the place looks lived in, rather than clearing everything out and going. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and was impressed that I’d done some research online already. They are a well-established company with lots of links around the country, and they have a very wide and professional presence online too, plus they do a lot of charity work. They even supported my school on Ten Tors one year, which I remember as I had a jumper with their logo on it. So they do seem good, and it probably would have worked out if we’d picked them in the end. It was certainly tempting.

The second agent was from Taylors, a relatively new company, and we weren’t so keen on them. He was polite enough, but valued our property really low, between £145,000 and £160,000. From the way he was talking, it felt like he was trying to price for people from the Midlands, from where they get a lot of custom, and their house prices aren’t quite so high. He also told us that they cheat with their photos using Photoshop, e.g. to change cloudy skies to bright ones, which didn’t impress us much (or anyone else I told at work for that matter). So with a low valuation and cheating on their photos, and a general feeling of not being too impressed, we rejected them.

Our builder then came round one evening to collect the cash we owed him for his recent work, and told us that his son AS, who works for a solicitors in Torquay, was keen to help us out if he could. AS had mentioned this to Mum when he popped over around Christmas time to deliver their card to us, so it was good to know that he was still interested. So our builder got in touch with his son AS, who got in touch with me, and he recommended an estate agents in Torquay called Bettesworths. They’re a family firm who specialise in commercial property mainly, but they also do quite a bit of residential work as well.

I’d had a half-day off work for the other 2 agents, and did the same here. The appointment was booked for 3pm, but AS turned up at 2:45pm to say hello to Mum and I first. I can’t remember the last time I ever saw him, as whenever he’s come around, I’ve tended to be out at work or visiting a friend. So it was good to see him. He’s only a year older than me, though with much less hair. He seems happy and we had a good chat with him, and he told us about the agents we were about to see. We also talked about the previous agents we’d had as well, and he agreed with our views on their valuations.

The guy from Bettesworths then turned up shortly after 3pm, and had a quick look around the house before all 4 of us sat down for a chat. He was very nice, and recommended that, in our circumstances, we set the initial market value at £159,950. This keeps it at the £160,000 level we were expecting, but because it’s just under that, it looks cheaper psychologically, much like shops who price goods at £1.99 rather than £2.

July and August are relatively slow times for the market – and many people were waiting to see what the outcome of the referendum was, so that also slowed the market (something the guy from Bradleys had also pointed out). But that doesn’t mean we can’t sell. The Bettesworths agent liked the house very much, and was very positive about it, because we have good views, a loft conversion and a conservatory. He didn’t mention the driveway, but we know that would have been a factor in the valuation as well.

He also recommended that we don’t bother having a For Sale board outside our house, because being in a cul-de-sac means there’s no through traffic. The only people who tend to come up here are neighbours who are turning round, so it’s of little benefit. And we’re fine with that. It also works from a security point of view, because although most people are genuine and respectful, there can always be one or two who see a For Sale sign and knock on your door asking to look around, or it can be an invitation to people who want to break in and steal things, or squat illegally if there’s nobody in.

The agent we met, or a member of his team, would accompany every viewing. And if we did want to go to London before the place is sold, that wouldn’t be a problem. They would get to the house before any viewers to check it was ok, and if they hadn’t done any viewings for a few days, they would run by and look in quickly, while checking the other places on their portfolio. Because they have commercial interests and other big properties they check on too, it makes sense to check in other places on the way. AS also said that he and his Dad would be happy to keep an eye on the place as well of course, which I know they would.

As with the other agents we saw, it would be a no sale, no fee contract. The fee would normally be 2%, but we get the friends and family discount thanks to our connection with AS, taking it down to 1.45%. That’s higher than the 1.25% offered by Bradleys, and 1.2% by Taylors, but still very reasonable. AS has also said he would do the conveyancing for us to sort out the legal side of things.

All in all, we were very happy, so Mum decided to go with Bettesworths then and there. The agent then spent a bit of time going round the house to get some more information. He measured the room sizes using a little gadget that you hold against one wall, and it uses what I assume is a laser fired off the opposite wall to measure the distance, which would help him produce some floor plans. He also took some photos, and checked things like the light bulbs, windows and the boiler, and anything else which would allow him to get an Energy Performance Certificate produced, which you must have by law before you sell a house (part of the Home Improvement Pack the government used to insist on, but most of it was dropped, with only the EPC remaining). It will only cost us about £60, as they can get it without VAT from the associates they use.

The EPC assesses the property’s energy usage and suggests what improvements could be made to save a bit more money, and is valid for 10 years (even if the property changes hands again in that time, it’s still valid, as it’s linked to the house, not the owner). But AS and the estate agent both stressed it was nothing to worry about, because nobody actually reads it or cares about it much. It’s just something you have to have. So the agent’s going to get the initial bits and pieces sorted out, so we should be on their system early next week. It’ll be interesting to see how things go from there.

I’ve also booked 4 days off work and booked the train tickets for going to London myself at the start of July. The train I’ve got is early in the morning on Tuesday 5th July and takes a bit longer than other services, but it’s direct and gives me plenty of time to meet my best mate at London Bridge, as he’s coming into London that day after staying with his wife for a few days for her birthday. So either I’ll swing by London Bridge on the Underground and pick him up on the way, which would be easier, or I’ll go to the house, drop my rucksack off, and then go back and get him. It depends what time he wants to come over.

He’s going to stay with me on Tuesday and Wednesday nights before going to stay with his other friend on Thursday. I’ll then stay one more night at my house (must stop calling it Nan’s house, it’s ours now really – or certainly will be when I buy my Aunt’s half), before coming home on Friday 8th July. On that day, I get the train from Paddington around midday, so I don’t have to leave home too early. It’ll be a quicker journey that time, with just one change along the way.

I don’t know what my best mate and I will be doing yet. We may just go for a walk around the area, or hop on the Tube and go somewhere. Certainly plenty of choice! He knows that we’ll just have to make do, given that the house needs work and hasn’t been lived in for a while. We can’t use the oven either, because Mum and I already know that’s broken. But we can use the hob and grill, so we can do things like toast or bacon, plus we have a microwave, which is useful, and there’s a kettle of course. The fridge isn’t in great shape, but is still usable as well. Chances are we’ll get in fish and chips from the shop down the road at some point, or perhaps order a takeaway in. And we’ll probably go to the Tesco store down the road, which Mum and I have never been in before, to look around and get a few bits in. I’ve also been playing with the Citymapper app on my phone, which seems really great for planning how to travel around up there, on foot and on public transport. So we should be fine, whatever we decide to do.

So that’s it really, the wheels are in motion now. It will still take a while before everything is finalised of course, but we are finally a huge step closer to moving. I’m very much looking forward to staying in our new home shortly, and Mum and I are very excited about moving up there permanently at long last. So it’s going to be interesting and exciting to see what happens next. We just have to cross our fingers that it goes smoothly.

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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