Saturday, January 3, 2015

Yes!!!! Ah, no.....

Friday 2 January 2014

Everything still frozen up including finally the water in the kitchen.

Make a fire and settle myself in front of it with lots of tea and the phone and the laptop and ring people - some good phone calls.  Fix up weekend of visits with one high budget client and tie another one down to a range of days when she may potentially pop over.  Have new client from Northern Ireland - she is French but has lived NI for over 40 years.  Fantastic NI accent when she speaks English but when she tells me about her house in Spain, she has a fantastic French accent. Marvellous!  I speak fluent French and improver's Spanish and sound very English in both.  She is over in February so we arrange to meet up.

She doesn't have the habit of putting the phrase 'I turned around' at the start of every sentence.  A former buyer with me absolutely loved this phrase.

'He turned around and said to me that he was coming next week and I turned around and said to him that it needed fixing now and Amy turned around and sorted it out with someone else'

I used to feel dizzy.

Still no news from AA by lunchtime.   They then ring me and say that they are going to make an offer (yay!) and will email it through to me.  Take dog for walk and get back to find written offer at within spitting distance of acceptable price.  Ring owner who happily accepts.   Ring AA back immediately and they do not get back to me for an hour.  Very happy.  OH says nothing is signed yet.  AA rings back and is worried about little things.  Reassure them that it will all be very straightforward and he seems satisfied.

Ring other agent to tell him house is sold and then organise for him to see another house in town with me tomorrow.  Don't want to let hot to trot clients escape.

Have scratch supper and half way through Calendar Girls, the phone rings.  We let it go to answer phone and it is AA backing out.  Console myself with fact that there will be a visit tomorrow and I have people coming over specially on the 20th.  Given that AA and AA OH can worry themselves to a standstill over a fully renovated house in great condition which would stand empty for a number of months before they occupied it, they probably would have been a fxxxxing nightmare to deal with.

They had asked me to get the thermal energy report renewed, because it referred to the period before the renovation and they were not sure how thermally efficient the house is - it has full triple glazing, insulation a foot thick and air conditioning.  It is virtually hermetically sealed with huge thick stone walls but they couldn't look at the house with their eyes, instead preferring to read figures on a piece of paper.  They obviously have not read the reports about the huge divergence in readings between the various diagnostics companies or they would know, like all agents know, that apart from the termite, lead and asbestos and electricity reports, the rest is virtually worthless.  The reports do present a significant expense for the sellers.

AA had also asked me to go next door to the rented house and estimate how noisy they were.  They wanted the person who had replaced the roof just four years ago, to come and check that it wasn't damaged.  My usual technique is just to say, yes of course, whilst the WTF!!! demon in my head jumps up and down and stabs me with his trident whilst laughing at my stupidity.

Ring other agent, who seemed to be at a party, to tell him good news for him, bad news for me.  We organise to meet earlier tomorrow and fit in the two houses.

For some reason the upstairs plug circuit is tripping out the downstairs plug circuit and the choice is reading in bed or having the fridge on.  Earlier to sleep than normal, par consequence....

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year and heading into the unknown...

Thursday 1 January 2015

-4 crispy and crunchy and sparkly

Quick breakfast and take dog around the lake.  The water has a egg shell sheen that is only seen in Winter when the water crystals are semi frozen.  Not a breath of wind.  Small coots jerk across the silken surface.  A dozen or so joggers pass us by.  The dog has recovered from the overdose of worming tablets given to him by OH yesterday and seems to have stopped eating grass and vomiting.

When we were first married, and in possession of our first dog, the dog medicine lived in the same box as ours.  Stumbling downstairs with many a Saturday morning crushing hangover, I am convinced that OH has had many more worming tablets than any of our dogs.  He has a nice, shiny coat too.

I get a message from owners of the house I will be revisiting later on today saying that AA OH rang them last night and they confirmed that they would sell the house for 165000 euros.  My OH humour went downhill at this point 'people are a fxxxxing nightmare'.  I quickly ring AA and ascertain that the visit is still on.  Try and calm OH who thinks they are trying to pull a fast one and avoid paying agency fees.  Yes, this does happen from time to time.  That is why everyone signs a Bon de Visite. The possibility of getting the owners a better deal has now gone out of the window.

Back home and make a fire to try and make the interior temperature at least as high as the exterior.  I do love a real fire - especially wood ones where I can actually manage to get them lit in under an hour.  Coal was and ever will be beyond my meagre capabilities.  The rest of the family are arsonists manqués and, with just a small portion of egg box and a couple of matches, can create a roaring inferno.

A quick lunch and I head down town to do revisit on a town house with AA and AA OH.  When a Brit goes to revisit a house, it is to measure up and decide where the furniture will go.  When an American revisits, it is with a selection of builders who can tell them exactly how much the work will cost, when an Australian revisits, it is with mates.  However, when a French person revisits, the sole purpose is to find reasons why they shouldn't purchase.  They tested all the windows and radiators, they harried the doors and cupboards, they poked at small undulations in the plaster, they peered in the loft and jiggled the insulation.  AA brought a metal articulated measuring stick out of her handbag and proceeded to measure every room and then write nothing down.  After an hour and a half, they had found nothing and were looking very concerned.

I suggested we went for a coffee and the only place that was open was the cavernous early 20th century main hotel.  We sat in the foyer with a large number of other semi frozen people who hadn't found hot beverages or entertainment anywhere else in town.  A coach load of well wrapped up out of towners disgorged themselves onto the terrace and I elbowed my way to the front of the bar and ordered some hot chocolate.

It was time to see if they were real.  AA OH told me he was not someone who would make a decision rapidly.  I point out that there is another agent coming on Saturday to do a revisit and I also have people coming over on 20th (don't know what the xxxx I am going to show them if this one goes) expressly to see this property.  We discuss purchase process and power of attorney.  An hour goes by. AA says they couldn't pay more than 170000.  I say that this wouldn't do.  The house is easily worth 200000.  Finally, I fill in the offer document and leave the actual offer amount blank and say they have 24 hours to decide what to do.

AA says she is feeling ill with a cold and her OH says they will both have a sleepless night though whether it is sleepless thinking that they might buy it or sleepless thinking that they miss out on it; it is too early to tell.

The sun is sinking behind the chateau as we head back into the car park and they drive off.  Back home to oven baked sliced potatoes with onions and mushrooms and hake.   OH insists that we need to get holiday booked for Easter and spends most of night looking for hotel in Granada that isn't the price of the Alhambra.  I look for jumpers that combine smartness with warmth and am about to go completely mad with boredom when I come across House of Fraser website and find four that are lovely.  Am amazed to find that people actually leave reviews for clothing.  Whilst this is enormously useful (bobbled immediately or shrunk to size unfit to clothe a pygmy), who on earth has the time?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Eve 2009

This year was rather dull, so I am revisiting a previous New Year's Eve

New Year’s Eve 2009

Christmas and New Year are quiet times in France so, faced with the prospect of yet another New Year of watching Jules Holland, we thought we would go to somewhere which is always lively and fun – Spain….

Going away for even a short time involves something that is anathema to me –preparation. Because we were only going away for one night I dispensed with the planning aspect even to the extent of forgetting to set my alarm clock and was woken up by RJ at 7.45.  Horribly dark still so we ran around packing for an hour.  Shutters were closed, plugs checked (many times), radiators turned off (and on and therefore had to be checked again) and various expensive items from the unlockable outbuildings had to be hauled into the sitting room (rotavator, strimmer, lawn mower, bikes), the computer had to be covered up with a towel and finally we thought we were ready and actually set off when the sun put in a brief appearance and the driver decided he needed sunglasses which necessitated a trip back to the house and setting off again, by which time the sun had gone in. The dog and the cat were left out and the chickens were left in.  We set off for the last time and hit the road.

The communes we passed were waging war on the escaped Pampas Grass that romps in gay abandon over the banks of the Autoroute.  Large amounts of it had been scraped away in preparation for the enlarging of the motorway and the few clumps that were left hung like dead chickens next to the fresh brown cleared earth.

Traffic was light and in less than four hours we were crossing the Bidasoa – the river that marks the boundary between France and Spain. It sparkled in the early morning sunlight and was dotted with brightly coloured boats, their flags waving gently in the breeze.  The change was immediate.  On the motorway, the cars are smarter and the pace is quicker; Basque houses with their fresh-faced white facades and red shutters are replaced by concrete apartment blocks.  The rolling hills of the Pays Basque transform into sharper, harsher forms, their sides scoured of vegetation and colonised by advancing columns of Christmas Trees.  Pasted onto the lower slopes are narrow strips of allotments, bright with cabbages and leeks.  On past San Sebastian we continue and signs for Bilbao/Bilbo start to appear on the overhead signs.  The Autoroute snakes round the side of the city and the groups of apartment blocks thicken.  Exit 116 appears and damn, we are not in that lane and have to take the subsequent exit.  Traffic is dense, with traffic lights every 100 metres.  Honking is a strategy that actually seems to work.  We get enmeshed in a particularly immobile lane and I am sent out to ask directions – a taxi driver in a proximate lane tells me to turn left and head for the river (he tells me a lot of other stuff too…. alas it is all in Spanish over laden with a sacre Basque accent which is lisping and profound.  We finally find a left turn and hurrah, the river is there and we cross and follow the bank. OH has had a stroke of genius and booked a hotel that is recognisable by its multi-coloured façade and we find it almost immediately.

After ten minutes wrangling about who gets which room, we emerge to find the Guggenheim is just on the opposite riverbank and so we pile into a nearby bar to refuel on tapas and coke.  There is a beautiful new bridge with a high elliptical arch and coloured glass cubed walkway.  Sickeningly, the waves are still visible through the blue cubes.  The floral bear at the entrance of the Museum is bejewelled with many tiny pansies.  The boys elect to go and investigate the City.

 “Art is all about glue and twigs,” observes WF, in what proves to be a prophetic insight.

We get inside and give Richard Serra’s exhibit A moment in time a miss and head off to the main exhibit by Cy Twombly.  There is a very large room which is filled with very small exhibits of half whitewashed pieces of wood, cemented together with old pieces of broken machinery and topped off with a wooden flower.  We hope it is going to get better and go up to the next floor.  There is another very large room filled with very large canvasses covered in infant scribbling, drawings of breasts and random splashes of paint.  A further room reveals canvasses with virtually nothing on them apart from a couple of horizontal and vertical lines and again, the scribbled writing.  We decide that estate agency is just too hard a way of making a living and resolve to take up art.

The day is saved by the third floor that has the most beautiful 16th century paintings of Spanish nobility.  There is the Holbein portrait of Jane Seymour (looking rather grim and serious and not at all like the floozy portrayed in many a TV production), another of Catherine of Aragon; surprisingly red headed.  Her face is round with rosy cheeks and she has a gentle look in her eye.  Several paintings are of Infantas, their faces frames with golden curls and hands resting delicately on their oversized farthingale skirts, small smiles playing on their lips and unaware of the shortness of their lives to be.  A small picture of an ugly woman in a black dress turns out to be the adolescent Charles II, his long chin unhidden by the beard that he adopted in later life.  He sneers at the viewer.  Rubens women romp richly over other canvasses and Mary Magdalene seems to have trouble keeping her clothes on.  Again, she has ginger hair…

And that is it, so we go out into the winter sunshine and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city on various buses and trams before going back to the Hotel to crash for a couple of hours, retrieve the boys and hit the streets again.

It’s 7 o’clock and I want to rock; want to get a little action here…

At 8.30 we were dressed and ready for fun and go into a nearby bar for tapas and drink and then follow the river uptown into the Casco Viejo.  Open bars seem mysteriously hard to find.  I ask a passing couple and they tell me everything is shut. We find the main square which is covered in confetti and debris and completely empty of people.  We wander slowly back to the Hotel, getting temporarily lost in a shopping (and bar free) area and having to refuel from a vending machine.

Finally we arrive back at the Hotel to find absolutely everything shut apart from the Hotels, which have packed restaurants.  We go to bed, very disappointed, at 11 pm and are awoken at midnight by explosions.  From all of the surrounding apartment blocks, people are throwing lit fireworks  – bangers, fountains, firecrackers, fizzers flash from the skies, bouncing off lower apartment windows before landing on the dancing people below.  And ten minutes later; silence.

New Year's eve 2014

31 December 2014

Still freezing

Award ourselves huge lie in (grasse matinée in French meaning fat morning, no equivalent of this in Andorra where everyone goes to bed very very late) and enjoy tea in bed and snuggling under the many duvets.

Cold and clear so have huge breakfast and take the dog out.  The track is covered with a myriad of sparkling orange oak leaves.  Hardly anyone about.  I discover message from AA asking to revisit the house from yesterday.  Our property 'doesnt correspond' which is a real stinker to accept but I didn't expect to see them again before their departure.  Ring other agent to tell them I need the key back - their visit has been put back to Saturday, otherwise the key would have been in the letter box and I would not be able to do the visit without first availing myself of a strong magnet.  Organised to meet up tomorrow at 2 pm

Discover owner has posted the property at a very low price on a free ad site which is very popular - ring him up and tell him to take it off immediately as this will scupper my chances of getting him a better price.

Go for coffee and delicious chocolate fondants with scoop of hazelnut ice cream.  OH discusses politics with the owner (who is called Rudolf!! - festive).  I look at the regional paper and discover everything is about to increase in price.

Go home and write speech for tomorrow.  I will need to tame my hair and put on some makeup. Don't want to scare them.

Speak to WF on Skype - he is wearing a ski hat and says the heating is not on high.  We suggest he turns up the thermostat.  He opens present I sent him and looks interested - Game Design book.  No news from RJ.

Watch rubbish on the telly and in bed for before midnight.  My phone turns from 31.12.2014 11.59 to 01.01.2015 00.00.  The New Year is here - distant fireworks boom.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Is today the day?

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Absolutely bloody freezing

Awake with cold nose and crank open the shutters to discover silvery world with half moon suspended in the clear blue.  Awesomely cold.  Cars frozen solid.  Our normal technique is to point them in an easterly direction so that the rising sun melts the windscreen.  Have trouble finding clothing that combines smart with warm.

Quick breakfast and down the flats.  ED OH sends FB message to say that RJ and ED spent night at a friends house.  He is mega pissed off with ED for not ringing either last night or this morning to say where they were.  RJ arrived back at SIL house at 7 am (they would really have appreciated that after sleepless night) and probably got it in the ear.  He always has to have a drama.  I FB him and tell him he is complete moron.  As usual, I don't get a response and he doesn't ring in the day either.  WF has his phone switched off.  Perhaps it was better in days of yore when you didnt expect to be able to contact people quickly.  I am sure girls are better at communicating (apart obviously from SIL ED)

OH wires plug to the extractor fan and hides with plastic cabling case.  We then try and sort out the problem of the non sliding door under the oven.  The oven sits on a shelf which is held by only a few screws and it keeps slipping down and resting on top of the under oven drawer.  We have to compromise by taking oven out, shoving drawer back in and putting oven back.  Floors are looking fabulous and very shiny and not at all old and crap like normal.

OH leaves and AA and her OH arrive immediately.  They live on an island which looks absolutely idyllic but apparently they have an urge to live in a little town like mine

Even paradise can pale, evidently, as this year I have also sold to a couple from Tahiti. Personally, I think living in a Caribbean tax haven is about as good as it gets.  Something to add to the Life Bucket list!

I was with a German lady, who is over 80 years old, and rattling around in an immense chateau just over the border in France.  She has a huge life force, in marked contrast to the locals, and was telling me about the Prussians (she was born in the region formerly known as Prussia). 

 'the Prussians are very CORRECT' she emphasised, with a rather worrying chopping motion of the hand ' when I came to France, it was so good to relax and to have so little regulation'. 

This opinion is in marked contrast of every free living British ex pat I have ever met.  Our general opinion is that we are regulated to the point of being unable to earn a living.  

 'Of course, I am still Prussian and will always do things CORRECTLY' chop chop.   

She is very keen on politics and extolled the virtues of Angela Merkel and told me many examples of her humour.  Angela Merkel apparently is also Prussian.  Prussian humour, I can assure you dear readers, does not travel well but  I was happy to eat the German Christmas biscuits with the hole in the centre and drink her excellent coffee.  The library was unheated and we could see our breath. There was an immense open hearth and hundreds upon hundreds of mouldering books.  On the table in front of us was, incongruously, a Star Wars chess set.   

I digress.  Back to the revisit.  At first I thought it was going splendidly, with AA discussing where they would put their furniture (grade 1 buying sign).  Her OH was concerned about where they would have their yoga room.  It transpires that he has a yoga business which was news to me.  We spend an hour in the flat and then I take them to TP's house on the outskirts of town.  Unfortunately AA OH was much keener on this house but not enough to make an offer.  Tell them that we are prepared to take an offer and also give them a long completion date.  They say they will get back to me over next two days before flying back to Paradise.  

Feel suddenly very deflated and teeth-rattlingly chilled.  Go to take keys to another agent who will be having a visit tomorrow.  Have quick coffee with him and thaw out.  He is deeply unhappy as someone took the opportunity, sometime during the previous evening, of breaking his quarter window and smashing out the back lights.  I would have experienced immense Shadenfreude at this in the past, but now we are working together so I am being nice.

Shadenfreude is German and means harm/joy.  An English equivalent is  epicaricacy which derives from Greek and is probably unused as it is a real mouthful to enunciate

Back home and am cold to the bone.  OH makes me a fire and I thaw out in front of it.  He is not surprised that I have not achieved an offer as he was not expecting AA OH to love the property as much as she did.Out in afternoon to see a couple who had bought a second property in the same town and are now having to sell it as they can no longer afford the bridging loan and cant sell their first property.  I have their first property for sale and it is a gorgeous clean modern contemporary house with swimming pool.  Unfortunately it has views of the motorway in the distance.It is blissfully warm inside and she offers me coffee and my feet are gently warmed by the underfloor heating.   I take as much information as possible about the second property whilst enjoying the warm of the first and then we head out.The lady had said to me that she had dreamed for at least 25 years of owning the second house.  What strange things dreams are, and how personal.  The property was an old church which is a total renovation.  Huge holes had been punched in the plaster (by the congregation or the pastor?) and the ceilings were feeling the pull of gravity.  The windows were hanging on by a nail or two and there was no heating.   The lady pointed out how lovely the parquet floors were.  I was still being traumatised by the ceilings at this point.  The price they had paid for it was refreshingly low so we agreed to take it onto market at this price plus our agency fees and suck it and see.Back home and rung some enquiries and did things off the task list.  OH made killer teryaki chicken with stir fry potatoes and some mange tout from Namibia (sourced at Lidl).  Enjoy Father Ted Christmas Special from many moons ago.Things you may not know about the Craggy Island residents

Dougal Maguire was relegated to the island after an unfortunate incident on a SeaLink ferry that put the lives of hundreds of nuns in danger.Ted Crilly is sent to the island as punishment for using money, earmarked for a sick child, and taking a holiday in Las Vegas.

One of my favourite episodes is one with Graham Norton where they are all in a caravan and GN sings and laughs and wants to play games all night.  Ted is outside having a cig and Dougal says to him 'Ted, I think I'm going mad'

Dermot Morgan (Ted Crilly) Had a habit of phoning in to Irish chat shows (especially the Late Late Show (1962)) when well-known politicians were appearing and willing to answer questions from the public. He would then proceed to ask a pertinent political question in their own voice.

Will the cleaning never end?

Monday 29 December 2014

0 degrees
Rather nippy

Hurrah, the last day of preparation before the revisit.  More shifting things up and down the stairs. My knees start complaining and creaking.  Wash the skirting boards and the window frames.  How on earth can there be so much dust on the doors.  The water access is in the flat below and have to do many trips to boil up the now leaking kettle.  Home for lunch and then we take a last minute decision to varnish the floors, the missing cans of varnish suddenly appearing when I start taking down the paint can mountain.  OH does main rooms.  It is starting to get dark.  He goes back to walk dog and cook and I get to varnish the staircase.  Oh joy.  The light goes out every four stairs.  I feel very, very tired.

SIL rings to say that RJ and her ED have gone out drinking and have been out hours and she doesn't know where they are and they are not answering their phones.  I am too exhausted to participate in this drama.  OH ED is out looking for them.  I go to bed and switch off my phone.  Bloody children.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Not a day of rest

Sunday 28 December 2014Crisp and clear 7 degreesMore cleaning.  The cleaning is not getting to me but Levon Helm is.  I don't care if he loves this bar and the poor old dirt farmer ain't got no corn, I just wish they would stop going on about it.  Told OH no Levon Helm tomorrow

On May 26, 1940, Mark Lavon Helm was the second of four children born to Nell and Diamond Helm in Elaine, Arkansas. Diamond was a cotton farmer who entertained occasionally as a musician. The Helm's loved music and often sang together. They listened to The Grand Ole Opry and Sonny Boy Williamson and his King Biscuit Entertainers regularly on the radio. A favorite family pastime was attending traveling music shows in the area. According to his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel's On Fire, Levon recalled seeing his first live show, Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, at six years old. His description: "This really tattooed my brain. I've never forgotten it." Hearing performers like Monroe and Williamson on the radio was one thing, seeing them live made a huge impression. 

Diamond is a fabulous Christian name and I love the idea of an experience being tattooed on the brain.  Dolly Parton is another country classic singer and here is a little of her story.

Parton was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, the fourth of twelve children of Robert Lee Parton, a tobacco farmer, and his wife Avie Lee (née Owens).She has described her family as being "dirt poor".Parton's father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of oatmeal. She outlined her family's poverty in her early songs: "Coat of Many Colors" and "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)". They lived in a rustic, one-room cabin in Locust Ridge, just north of the Greenbrier Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains, a predominantly Pentecostal area.Music played an important role in her early life, and her grandfather was a Pentecostal "Holy Roller" preacher.Many of her early performances were in church, along with her family. Her siblings are Willadeene (born 1940), David Wilburn (born 1942), Coy Denver (born 1943), Bobby Lee (born 1948), Stella Mae (born 1949), Cassie Nan (born 1951), Randel Huston ("Randy"; born 1953), Larry Gerald (July 1, 1955 – July 6, 1955), Floyd and Freida Estelle (twins; born 1957), and Rachel Ann (born 1959).Makes me wonder how different our lives would have been if we had been born 'dirt poor' - are we now too soft and have not made the most of the chances given to us because our lives have not been tough enough?

Last verse of Coat of Many Colours

But they didn't understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me 

Saturday. And the rains came down.....

Saturday 27 December 2014

No idea of temperature as was raining too much to go out and look without waterproofs

It is not often that we wake to the sound of the rain lashing down on the shutters.  It was also sluicing off the barn roof and bouncing out of the gutters.  OH had pillow over his head and was groaning 'this is just what we didn't need'.  Our Forth Bridge somehow absorbs water and then develops pale yellow markings on the walls and the ceilings.  The roofer assures me that all the tiles are in place.  The damp takes about two to three days to show through.  Just in time for the revisit.  Some remedial painting may be required on Monday.

Have remains of trifle for breakfast - one benefit of the 42 steps is that my clothes are looser than they have been in some time.  Spend morning washing down the remains of the banisters plus the entrance hall floor.  Plaster has welded itself to some parts and the new floor paint chips up with it. Another job for tomorrow.  OH goes shopping and walks the dog around the lake and gets so wet, he can actually wring water out of his socks.  He shows me his wet underwear and I tell him to put it in the laundry basket.  Oh the romance of marriage.

I am not as fed up of cleaning as you may imagine.  In fact I am not fed up at all as almost anything is better than having to deal with the exigencies of the house selling and buying general public who drove me into the manic, gibbering state normally displayed by Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Clouseau's superior).  Wikipedia informs us that Herbert Lom was Czek and died at the age of 95 in 2012.

Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther Strikes Again

My clients have yet to give me a twitch.  This feat was achieved however by a Chartered Accountant who gave his unfortunate employees an authentic Bob Cratchitt experience.   I have just realised that his eye used to twitch when he saw me too.  How cheering!

Amongst the memories of that year, are the following:

1.  Despite the very low wages paid to all, we were expected to contribute five pounds to the Partners Christmas present.  Everyone hated the Partners.  Everyone complained but everyone paid up.  I didn't pay up.  First black mark.  I took the opportunity of calculating the hourly rate of the lowest paid staff - myself included - and we were just over two pounds an hour.  I was on a training contract whilst the others were being exploited long term.

2.  Christmas Party.  Everyone was expected to attend the Christmas party (and bring a bottle).  I was walking down the steps out of the building when the Senior Partner ran out of the Board Room and shouted, 'you will be deducted a half day's holiday if you don't attend'!  I didn't and duly lost a half day.

3.  One of my colleagues' father was seriously ill with cancer and died just before Christmas.  The Senior Partner came around with our wage packets (they paid us in cash on a weekly basis) and informed her that she had not received the ten pounds Christmas bonus because she had had a lot of time off during the year.  There was a deathly 'you absolute bastard' silence as he stalked out of the room and quietly clicked shut the door behind him.  I looked in my wage packet and discovered less money than usual.  My Christmas bonus had taken me into another NIC bracket.....

My last experience as an employed accountant came many years later when OH had been made redundant and I thought it would be fun to be the one going out to work.  Alas, deeply wrong.  I obtained a job (I never seem to have trouble obtaining the blooming things) and was delighted to find that my good friend from our training days was still there.  She was not the happy young thing of days gone by but a chain smoking, embittered senior with the joy sucked right out of her.

The days were from 8.30 to 5.30 with 40 minutes for lunch.  I did VAT returns back to back.  No one talked.  Budgets were to be strictly adhered to.   I used to think that my ears had stopped working, it was so quiet.  Even at lunchtime (most people sat at their desks and made the most of the short access to internet) no one spoke.  I brought crisps in one day and had to suck most of the packet because the first crunch had sounded like rifle shot and attracted the attention of everyone in the room.  I exceeded all of the budgets and was definitely a non profit centre.

At the end of three tortured months, I was called into one of the Partners offices.  He said he felt that I didn't really fit into the team (aka you are not making us any money) and that they really regretted that they would not be able to offer me a permanent contract.   I wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment of my suitability for their firm (ie not a zombie), picked up my stuff and left with a heart bursting with joy and lungs full of suddenly fresh and fulfilling air.  They paid me for the next three months as compensation and it will be probably the only time in my life when I am paid for not doing something.

I worked for a number of Chartered Accountants and there wasn't a one of them that I haven't left without feeling a sense of profound relief.  Actually, that holds true for most of my employments. OH suggests it is not them, it is me and that I am a bad employee.  I don't do politics and I don't do backstabbing and I don't do false.  If that makes me a bad employee, then it also makes me a better person.

Later in the day went to see a house on estimation which had come via a notary with whom I have worked for many years.  Stunning views, terrifying cracks in the ceilings, on sale for over two years. Well, miracles do occur and I did sell another property within view of this one and with just one visit. The main living room is over 55m2 and has wonderful vistas of the river and the Pyrénées.  A potential future problem is the fact it is being let to a Vietnamese family without a written rental agreement.  They were away in Belgium for the festive season.  They do not like housework by the look of it - the cobwebs and dust had some ancienneté.