Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pulling Up Stakes

The next time you are feeling snug and secure in your life, think of this:

Somewhere, in some anonymous city, in a beige office, wearing an off-the-rack grey suit with a red tie, sits a middle aged man, staring at a spreadsheet on a computer screen. He is making tick marks on the spreadsheet and watching The Bottom Line.

He’s feeling a little low this morning due to a party he and his wife attended the previous evening. It’s not that he’s hung-over, but the way his wife and Gary kept chatting in the corner…she would never, though, would she? He makes another tick. The Bottom Line dips. He frowns.

His colleague, Richard was at the party, hinting of rumblings in the company of redundancies and no bonuses. He couldn’t be made redundant, not with Geoff about to go to university. He makes another tick. The Bottom Line dips. He frowns.

Kelsey’s orthodontia bills would be due soon. Finding the money was not going to be easy, especially as his wife wants a holiday on the Costa del Sol, and judging from the way she was looking at Gary, cancelling her holiday would not be a good idea. He makes another tick. The Bottom Line rises. He smiles.

He reaches for his coat. Time for a celebratory lunch. He leaves the office, thinking how his boss will be impressed. This will keep him safe from redundancies, maybe even get him a bonus. He could buy a present, surprise his wife.

He leaves, unaware that ticking the box set in motion a chain of events that will turn other people’s lives upside down. And even if he was aware, he wouldn’t give it much thought; it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

As you have undoubtedly guessed by now, our box has been ticked. As a result, the flat we have called home for the past twelve years—the only home I have known in Britain, the flat we have been very happy in and where we had hoped to remain for some time to come—is no longer a safe haven, leaving us no option but to move.

What happened was this: a year or so ago our block of flats was, once again, sold to another company. Generally, this is greeted with the usual “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” enthusiasm. This time, however, our new owners are a bit more proactive. First—as you will recall—they made me take down my flag. Then they began the process of renovating the flats, so they can rent them out at shockingly inflated prices. This wasn’t a worry because they only did it when someone vacated a flat, and we had no intention of vacating ours.

Then, the other evening, while returning from our postprandial constitutional, we stopped to chat with our long-time neighbor. He informed us that his lease was up for renewal, but instead of a new lease to sign, he had instead received a letter telling him he had two months to get out of his flat. When he queried this—citing his length of occupancy and the fact that he was an ideal tenant—he was informed that they wanted to renovate the flat and he needed to go.

Nothing personal; just business.

It took me and my wife about ten minutes to agree that living here with that particular Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads was not an option and that it would be better to jump before we were pushed.

We are, as the Brits say, “gutted” by this, not only because it is the home we set up together and had no intention of leaving, but also because it is an amazing flat in an amazing town. Therefore, in the ten minutes that followed the decision to leave, came the determination to remain in Horsham, which is certain to make moving exponentially more difficult.

In the US, when it came time to search for a new abode, I had about 5 counties to choose from. Where I lived didn’t matter much because every town was basically the same and, no matter where I chose to live, I’d have to drive everywhere, anyway. In my current lifestyle, however, this is not the case.

This is the area I could, and did, live in during my time in the US.
The outlined area covers roughly 1,500 miles.
Hampered by our desire to be within walking distance of the town centre and the need to be near rail and bus lines, we have confined ourselves to an extremely small, much sought after, and very expensive location.

The area I live in now, at the same zoom level as the NY map.
The magnified area is approximately 1 square mile.
We are, however, determined. It’s going to be expensive and it’s going to be a huge disruption at a time when there is already enough disruption in our lives, but we will, somehow, preserve the quality of life we have grown accustomed do.

This isn’t business; it’s personal.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Taking the Challenge

Yup, I caved. And pretty quickly, too. I first heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge only a few days ago.

My daughter-in-law posted a video on FaceBook of her getting drenched by a bucket of ice-water and I was, naturally, mystified. After that, I kept seeing more and more of the same sort of video so I finally looked up ALS and found out it’s what we in Blighty call Motor Neuron Disease. And, yeah, it’s a horrible thing, well worthy of every penny (or pence) you can donate to it.

But despite people in the US dumping buckets full of ice over their heads, it isn’t something that has taken hold here. Still, I thought I could do my part.

It’s a worthy cause, but if the videos I have been watching are anything to go by, some people ought to freshen up their understanding of the laws of physics before they attempt this seemingly innocuous feat. I do hope those people are in the minority, and that most manage to drench themselves without the need to visit A&E. (That’s the emergency room, for you folks in the US, not the popular TV channel showing WWII documentaries.)

And there may be other drawbacks to this worthy undertaking, as well. If you happen to be a popular person, you’re probably going broke running down to Hannaford for bags of ice. On the other hand, if you are a lonely sort of person, this is probably akin to a protracted Valentine’s Day, with you sitting at home eating your single-serving TV dinner and with only a bucket of ice no one wants you to do anything with for company.

But all worthy causes have some sort of downside, so don’t let that stand in your way. This is a worthy cause, so make good use of your ice, like I did.

By the way, no one nominated me; I just nominated myself, and I nominated myself to do it again. And I'll keep doing it until I run out of ice or whiskey.