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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Curiouser and more curiouserer

A phone call from Bill confirms something I suspect I have subconsciously known for twenty years or so: I do'nt need to trawl the web and bookshops looking for the causes of complexity in human societies because Nel and I ARE the cause of it. Or at the very least, magnets for the phenomena.

When we came to Hull, we declared loud and proud to anyone and everyone that a significant part of our new five year plan was to do nothing exciting for the next couple of years or so. A period of consolidation we grandly announced, time to put our house in order, buckle down, grow up, toe the line, do the right thing, circle the wagons and generally try to spend as much time as possible bored out of our skulls. We crossed the road to avoid interesting looking people, watched television for a week straight, and settled in. We even decided to eat bland, wholesome food. This part of the plan we called "The RoadMap to Peas". We also resolved that for at least a year we would avoid lawsuits, try not to spend more than $8000 per year on pet care, avoid hikes in bear-infested mountainous regions, and start as few new businesses as possible. In short, "situations" were to be avoided at all costs.

The decision to purchase a house fit perfectly with our plan, a mature, sensible decision, and given that we were not going to be part of a 'chain', it would be relatively straightforward. It was about 8.30pm last night as we were standing on the step of the house we thought we were buying, listening to the Estonian tenant describe in tearful, broken English how if she were to move out on December 19th as agreed, then she would have no-where to overwinter her 14 children, that I realized we had entered another situation. Naturally, for us at least, buying this house has become very complicated.

Perhaps the fact that the house was owned by a person, who it would compliment hugely to call a slum-lord, and was managed by a Property Management company (Gold's) who gave every appearance of being directly related to Tiverton's (at least judging by their professionalism) should have caused pause for thought, but despite difficulties gaining access we negotiated hard and agreed a goodish price. Conditions included that the place be free and clear of tenants, and was subject to the results of the survey. Emma gave the tenants two months notice, and we set about arranging a mortgage.

[Note: In England house buying follows the following process - viewing, negotiations/offer, acceptance of offer, arrange mortgage, get survey done, renegotiate(sometimes only), sign contracts, agree closing date. Up to the point of signing contracts the seller can pull out at any time. The survey costs money, (up to £700) as do legal necessities like a land search etc. (called conveyancing), so you can possibly spend a lot of money only to have the seller withdraw from your agreement - for example, they may receive a higher offer. ]

After we received the results of the survey(building inspection) we returned to the negotiating table, pointing out that the place was a fire-trap and we wanted a further reduction in price for re-wiring and safety checks on the gas heating system. Phone calls to the property manager's agent, Emma, on this issue received no response, so we e-mailed our new position. We were one phone call away from a deal, so were anxious to hear Emma's response.

Still no response from Emma, so Nosmo King, our legal rep, kindly called Gold's to find out what was going on. I was locking up at work in Leeds when NK called me with his findings. Emma had suffered a nervous breakdown, was now on long-term sick leave, and had failed to relay our most recent position to anyone at Gold's. Furthermore, Gold's owner, an unpallatable cove called Mr Gold, told Nosmo that they(Gold's) were NOT in the business of selling houses as anything other than investment property, and therefore had definitely NOT and never would, in the case of Ella Street, instructed the tenants to leave. The fact that we were in possession of letters from Mr Slum Lord's solicitors, and from Emma(issued prior to her breakdown) stating that notice to quit had been given was immaterial. NK staged a tactical withdrawal, and called me up with a cunning plan, simple in execution, imbued with a daring simplicity that cut through bureaucratic red tape like a Japanese Iaido Blade of the early 16th century.

NK's plan was that we should knock at the door of Ella Street and ask the tenants if they had been booted out. Under normal circumstances, I would not quail at such a plan - it made sense, it was straightforward, and it had an air of detectiveness that was romantically appealing. However, what Nosmo was unaware of was that the denizons of the joint seemed an unruly mob. Hard-core pornography wallpaper aside, there were at least two burly, hostile, excitable Eastern European teenagers and several unfriendly rug-rats that we had seen during our viewings. What would the parents be like?

Nevertheless, the scheme made sense and had to be risked, but care must be taken, I told Nel as we walked round the corner to "our" house. We should plan our Operation (Operation Tactful Approach) carefully. I informed Nel (codename Red Boffin Ivory Tower)that she should take up Recon A, a position someway down the road, from where she could call the police if I (codename Delta Mazzer One) got shot. I would take position ( Location Eagle Strike) by the entrance, and lead a frontal assault. Signals would be based on NATO conventions, and radio silence should be observed at all times. Nel listened politely, then walked up to the front door and knocked.

The lady of the house was tearful rather than threatening, and informed us that yes, maybe she had had a notice to quit, and no she was'nt going to do anything about it. How could she with 14 children? Besides which the Social Services were now withholding her welfare payments due to an earlier overpayment and she had no money for a new place. It was a tale that would have Right Wing newspapers writing outraged articles about immigrants abusing the British system, articles that their Slum Lord readership would fully agree with (just before making a note to themselves to ignore the Law reagrding statutory annual electrical safety checks once more). Nel just made sympathetic noises, and we apologized for trying to buy the house before retreating gracefully.

We reported back to NK, and the latest news is that he has tried to follow up with the sellers legal team, but at their offices the file has been passed on to Someone Else, and Someone Else is now off work, on sick leave.

So right now the situation is fluid. Tomorrow might bring more developments.

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