Monday, 10 November 2008

My first experience of Cyprus

A photo of my daughter in Paphos taken by my son.

I have just spent a week in Cyprus with my family attending my nephew's wedding. It was my first experience of Cyprus and the first time i have been abroad in over three years. We stayed near Paphos in an area known as Coral Bay. The weather for late October/early November was pleasantly warm with a couple of days extremely hot which leads me to conclude that it would definately be too warm for me there in the summer months.

My first impressions of the island were not good. There was a lot of unfinished building work which made the place feel very untidy and stark. Maybe the credit crunch and downturn in property sales was having an effect. I hated Coral Bay. It was just a manufactured tourist area. Nothing Cypriot about it. The shops and restaurants were surprisingly expensive which, it seemed to me, only had the intention of separating the tourists from their money.

On the way to Polis in the Cypriot countryside.

However, the local Greek Cypriots we came across were lovely, friendly and helpful. I'm sure my first impressions are a little bit unfair because we did not get the chance to visit the central and eastern parts of the island. Also, it was late , very late in the season and the land was parched and dusty. I would love to go back with more time to spend, maybe in the spring, and discover the real Cyprus.
Stunning scenery in the Trudos Mountains.

I did enjoy the holiday though. I enjoyed the experience of foreign travel again. I enjoyed the flying and airport even though it was stressful. I enjoyed the people watching. The wedding was a fantastic joyous occasion and I enjoyed being with my wife and children as it will probably be the last time we will take a holiday together as a family.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

My Grandfather Hamlet - Full of Surprises

Sometimes when researching family history the unexpected comes along that opens up an intriguing new line of enquiry that is so mysterious that it becomes an obsession. So it has happened to me this week.

I've been delving into my family tree and family history for a number of years mostly with success but with some frustrating disappointments. My grandfather, Hamlet was born in Portsmouth in 1888. I found him on the 1891 cencus living with his parents, brothers and sisters. His parents both died within two years of each other leaving Hamlet an orphan at the age of around five. However, frustratingly i could not find him on the 1901 census. Where had he gone? What had happened to him? The next time he turned up was as an 18 year old in the Navy records. But, what was he doing before then?

Several years went by until out of the blue i got an email via the "GenesReunited" website from somebody researching "British Home Children" saying that he had come across the unusual name of Hamlet Wisdom in the Canadian registry of British Home Children and could he be my ancestor?

This is a quote from the British Home Children online directory
"About 100,000 British Home Children (alleged orphans) were sent to Canada and Australia by over 50 British Child Care organizations. These 4-15 year old children worked as indentured farm labourers and domestic servants until they were 18 years old. The British Child Care organizations professed a dominant motive of providing these children with a better life than they would have had in Britain, but they had other ignoble and pecuniary motives. They rid themselves of an unwanted segment of their society and profited when they sold these children to Canadian farmers."

After a bit of online research i found out that Hamlet was in care with Portsmouth council and then for whatever reason been selected by the Bristol Emigration Society to be sent to Canada. The records show that he was sent from Liverpool on the SS Lake Megantic in June 1900 (aged 12) to Quebec and onwards to Saint Johns, New Brunswick. I then looked on the Canadian 1901 census and found him listed as a lodger with a family called Secord. It looks to me that they were part of a farming community. The records say that he returned to England in the winter of 1903/4 (aged 15). The question now is why and how did he return? It was very unusual for these children to return. Where did he get the money for his passage? Who did he travel with? Intriguing questions which i am determined to find out.

My father knew nothing of these events. He was young when Hamlet died and no information was passed down. Personally i just wonder what it was like for a child to be orphaned, taken into care and then sent alone to a far off country. An adventure or purgatory?

Monday, 13 October 2008

I'm a prize winner! (at last)

I'm an avid follower of all things Czech so i always read the online English pages of Radio Prague for a day to day insight into whats happening in the Czech Republic. They feature many interesting articles on daily news, life, culture, history, literature and music amongst other things that i really enjoy clicking through their pages. Every month they have a competion, usually to recognise from clues a famous Czech (living or dead) and you are invited to email in your answer.
Last month i was trawling through as usual and came across the competition. They were asking to name a mystery Czech born person who was a refugee rescued by Sir. Nicholas Winton from Nazi Death camps, taken to England and became a respected film producer and director.
I couldn't believe it. I actually knew the answer! It was Karel Reisz who directed "The French Lieutenant's Woman" starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. So i dutifully emailed my answer expecting to hear nothing as i have never won anything in my life!
Anyway, i couldn't believe it when a couple of weeks later i received an email from Radio Prague imforming me that i was one of the winners and that they would send me a small prize. Consequently i am now the proud owner of a light purple "Radio Praha" T shirt and a really interesting "History of Prague Radio" booklet.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The Gazzunderers have it!

Well, the bastards exchanged and completed today. I'm so relieved and pleased for the clients, but part of me didn't want them to have it. They have won. They have got what they set out to do. They have their bargain and screw everyone else.
Again though i can't believe the cheek of the woman. After it had completed she got her solicitor to ask us if we would deliver the keys to her solicitor's office. No way! So the father came in to collect them - all smiling, no mention of what happened. Oh how i hate them!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The ultimate guzzunder continued...

The bastards have asked for another 5% reduction siting 'financial advice'. Had to bite my lip again. Rang the clients who can't believe the cheek of these people. We said no way to them and said exchange and complete tomorrow at the agreed price or the sale is off. Not a threat, just fact. Email back from them saying they would proceed, worded as if they're doing us a favour. I really want to tell them to f*** off now regardless, but the client wants the money as soon as possible. Watch this space to see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The ultimate gazzunder.

As an estate agent times are very difficult at the moment what with a lack of sales, prices falling and a general lack of confidence in the property market. However you try to do the best for your client and keep smiling.

I always try to see the best in people and like to think that i am professional and honourable with my dealings with both vendors and purchasers. I pride myself in remaining calm and respectful even in the most stressful and trying of cicumstances. However today i nearly lost it. Let me explain.

We are selling a vacant bungalow for an aged client who has gone to New Zealand to be with her sister. Her property is her only asset and it needs to be sold to pay for her care and nursing fees. She gets no financial assistance and must provide for herself.

Several weeks ago we accepted a very low offer from a purchaser on the understanding that the sale would proceed very quickly. This they agreed to do. After a few annoying delays (i won't go into the details, but they really dragged their feet) we were informed by their solicitors that they were ready and exchange would take place at the end of the week. The day before exchange of contracts was due the buyers demanded a 15% reduction (citing the fall in property prices) or they would withdraw from the sale. This equated to a reduction in price of £55,500! An enormous sum.

Our clients were understandibly furious at the timing of the demand and really wanted to call their bluff, but because they needed to sell suggested a reduction of 10%. After a bit of negotiation we got the sellers and buyers to agree a 12.5% reduction as long as contracts were exchanged very quickly and confirmed to all parties accordingly.

This morning we get an email from the buyers saying that they will not now agree 12.5% but insistant on the original 15% reduction. It was take it or leave it or they would withdraw and proceed with an alternative property. After much soul searching the clients have agreed to this further reduction. We hope to exchange at the end of this week. Then the buyers had the cheek to ask if they could have access to do some re-decoration between exchange and completion. Of course we said no way.

I personally feel awful about the whole affair. Our poor client has been taken advantage of by a very unscrupulous buyer with no conscience or scruples. They are totally dishonourable and contemptable, but what they have done under the English system of house purchase is not illegal. So, unfortunately it is the system that ultimately is to blame. There should be something in place to stop this happening - but what.

One thing is for certain, these horrible people have undermined my faith in business morality and made me a harder and more sceptical person than i care to be. Bastards.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

We become London tourists

I've recently taken my annual holiday and having to watch the pennies decided that we would spend it at home and take the odd day out. Although i only live just outside London i had never been to Tower Bridge or the Tower of London. So, we caught the train into Waterloo station and decided to walk to Tower Bridge. We went to the London Eye (heaving with people, organised chaos!) and walked over Westminster bridge to The Embankment. When you go on foot you see so many interesting and different things. Off the embankment just after the tube station we stumbled across a small park. We went in and were amazed to find a lovely secluded area with a bandstand, statues, trees and lawns. Very restful and well used by the locals. Further along we bought some fruit to eat on our journey from a stall. Very nice and tasty!

We continued along the Embankment taking in the lovely Thames views and the "Eye" on the opposite bank. We walked as far as the Millenium bridge and wandered across to the south bank and the Tate Modern. I was really impressed with the Millenium bridge. What a structure and again superb views looking up to St. Paul's cathedral, (which i have promised myself to see on another visit). We spent about an hour looking around Tate Modern. Not really enough time but it gave us a good taster for another visit. We left the Tate and continued on the south bank surprised to find plenty of newish restaurants and shops that we didn't know existed. There were lots of people there, a nice mix of Londoners and tourists. Very vibrant and buzzing. We stopped and got a snack and a drink here before continuing on with our walk. We just sat for an hour and people watched as they passed our table. I expect that this area is very popular in the evenings for people looking for a good night out.

When we had finished we wandered along the river past converted warehouses, the new London council offices (wow!) and even an open air theatre until all of a sudden we were at Tower Bridge. It lived up to my expectations. What a lovely sight it was. We climbed the stairs and walked slowly over the bridge. There was a Tower Bridge exhibition which was in the upper part of the bridge. I would have loved to have gone up but time was pressing as we had to be home by the early evening.

Over the bridge we went to be opposite the Tower of London. We couldn't see much of course because of the high walls. The place was teeming with tourists of all nationalities queuing to get in. One day i'll take a tour of the Tower when it's less busy.

We were getting tired by now.and didn't fancy the long walk back to Waterloo so on a whim we bought tickets for the "Clipper" which stopped at a wharf just along from the Tower. The trip back to the London Eye on the Thames was an unexpected delight and capped off a wonderful day. The Clipper experience has given us a novel new and easy way to travel when we go to London. We now plan to become "tourists" again as soon as possible and explore the City of London area. I'll let you know how we get on so watch this space.

Friday, 18 April 2008

If you can't laugh at yourself.........

I came across this cartoon by mac in The Daily Mail which is just brilliant and made me laugh out loud. Things may be bad but it is always possible to have a giggle at adversity and keep smiling.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Times are tough.

Recently i have been thinking more and more about old age and retirement. I'm beginning to worry about how on earth we are going to cope and pay for our non working years.

We are both in non pensionable employment (big mistake)and have to make our own arrangements for pensions and retirement income. Trouble is we have no disposable income to plough money into pension plans. We are too busy trying to pay the mortgage and household bills and we are meant to be middle class professionals.

Everything seems to have shot up in price recently. Our monthly expenditure is now beyond all reason added to the fact that i work in the property market, mostly on commission. A very bad combination at the moment! Reduction in income with higher bills. Result sleepless nights and worry.

My own fault i know, but i'm beginning to resent people that have company pensions, particularly final salary pensions. I'm finding myself getting really annoyed with some people moaning about their situation when thay have good pensions waiting for them and have good savings. They do not realise how well off they are.

I have suddenly become what i used to hate - a moaner. It's funny what a lack of money can turn you into isn't it?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Working conditions.

Here are a couple of photographs of the ceiling in my back office at work. We had a leak a number of years ago (yes years!) which has never been fixed properly and now you can see the result. The water slowly drips through the ceiling causing icicles composed of i know not what. The paint is peeling as the problem spreads with dust falling from time to time.

I wander what exactly the dust is composed of and what i'm breathing in. Not to mention the damp. Should i have to put up with this? My boss (who works at another office) is aware of the problem and has had a couple of roofers try to fix the leak without success. The last try was several months ago. Since then he seems reluctant to try again because of the cost. Should i have to put up with this? What should or can i do?