Monthly Archives: June 2011

REARRANGE THESE WORDS…

…will…live…to…losing…the…

When I arrived back in London from Nice I promised myself that I would endeavour to eat on alternate Thursdays.  Well, a girl can dream, n’est pas?  What with the recession and everything, the call for comedians has diminished (unless you’re lucky enough to qualify for a seat in Parliament, of course) and so one has to be creative about how to put the odd yoghurt on the table.

Thus it was that I set off this week to look for temporary office work.

I entered the portals of one large, very well known employment agency and six adolescents looked up from their desks, seemingly startled that anybody had worked out how to negotiatethe gap in the walls commonly known as the doorway.

Can I help? a bemused 13 year-old asked me.

I wondered if there was any temp work around, I said.

Have you got a CV? came the reply.

No, I answered.  Didn’t occur to me to bring one.

Well, said the teenager, you’d better see Plonker.  He deals with the temping side of the agency.

So I walked over to Plonker’s desk.

What can I do for you?  he asked.  Even though he was seated 4 feet away from where the previous conversation had taken place and had listened to every word.

I wondered if there was any temp work around, I said.  (For those of you interested in BBC broadcasting, this is known as a ‘current repeat’.  You might want to consider asking for your NotNiceEtoile Licence Fee back).

Have you got a CV? came the reply.  (Who said pantomime was dead???)

Resisting the temptation to say ‘it’s behind you’, I instead (again) replied: ‘No.  Didn’t occur to me to bring one.’

At this point Plonker realized he was going to have to have a conversation with me.  His eyebrows drooped.

OK, what can you do?

Well, I’m a writer, so I’m obviously literate, I’m numerate, and I’ve also done reception work.

How long ago was it that you did reception work? he asked.

Around 25 years, I said.

Oh dear.  He looked (even more) disappointed.  Haven’t you done any since then?

I looked at him.

Well, it can’t have changed that much, I chirped.  I’m sitting here now talking to you well enough, aren’t I?

Hmm.  Plonker put on his disparaging face again.  Have to admit, it was starting to suit him. The thing is, any potential company is going to ask me how recent your experience is.

What, of saying ‘hello’ to people?  I proffered.

Silence.

I wondered if I’d remembered to put into my handbag a wet haddock. Damn, it was still in the fridge.  I’d have to smack him around the head with my devastating wit instead.

I pulled myself up in my chair, looked him straight in the eye and said: ‘It was for the Jim Henson Organization.  I was a part-time  Muppet.  Where do you think I got this nose from?’

No response from the full-time muppet opposite me.

What have you been doing since then?

I explained I’d been idly passing the time being a theatre director, a BBC Comedy Producer / Director, a broadcaster, writer and stand-up comedian.

Well, if you’d like to pop your CV into an email…

I asked him what was the point.  Based on his reactions nobody was going to have the imagination to see that I could, in actual fact, file pieces of paper in alphabetical order, because I haven’t very recently been studying the alphabet; nor would they believe I was quite possibly capable of copy typing someone else’s words without inserting the word FUCK every so often. (I didn’t say that to him, by-the-way.  But hang on, come to think of it…)  And as for saying ‘Hello, can I help you?’ with a smile on my face, well, just forget it.

Will I send him my CV?  No point.  I could email my ‘C’, but I doubt he’s reached ‘V’ in the alphabet yet (there’s the six-monthly Recognition of Consonants refresher course coming up next week, I think I heard his colleague say) and anyway, he’s probably convinced I’m over-qualified because I entered through the portals instead of coming in through the front door.

Food parcels addressed to NotNiceEtoile, WordPress, London, if you’d be so kind.

Thanks very much.

METEORILLOGICAL REPORT

When people discover I’ve recently relocated from the South of France to England, they all say the same thing: WHY?!

I tell them I came back because of the weather.

Really?!  they gasp.  You came back for the weather?!

Yes, I reply. I’m a masochist.

I’m writing this at my desk in my living room, the TV on in the background showing the only match to be playing this afternoon during the second, and final week at Wimbledon, the famous grass court tennis Grand Slam competition.  Why only one match?  Because, naturally, it’s raining heavily and there’s a thunderstorm.  The electronic glass roof over Centre Court is ensuring the game continues in spite of the weather, though it comes to something when the VERY NOISY GRUNTING!!! of the female participants on every shot can’t be heard above the torrential downpour making its presence heard on the hard glass covering.  Poor dears, I think it’s confusing them.

GRUNT!!!  (OUT!!!)

Anyway, to clear up any misunderstandings about the weather here, there now follows the NotNiceEtoile Guide to the British Summer.

THE NOTNICEETOILE GUIDE TO THE BRITISH SUMMER

* Rain is not merely rain. It’s more important than that.  Just as the Inuit at the North Pole are reputed to have 47 different words for snow, the Brits have 5,863 swearwords for rain.

* Common or Garden Rain falls on gardens and commoners.  The latter includes everyone in the country, other than the 27,934 people who are the most important members of the Royal Family and who are paid for out of the Civil List. (POINT OF INTEREST: Garden Party Rain falls on commoners when they are invited to Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace. It does not fall on the the Queen – who is not a commoner, she’s the Queen, duh – because she shelters under one of her horrible little corgis.  So now you know the point of those vicious little dogs).

* Wimblerain and Bank Holirain differ from each other only in the fact they’re both completely predictable.  Which, predictably, means no point of differentation whatsoever.

* Showers are completely predictable in their total unpredictability.  Which is either predictable or unpredictable, depending on whether you’ve gone out with an umbrella or not. Or not.

* Drizzle is what it does when it’s not raining.

I hope this explains the mystical quality of the British Summer.  (Which is called mystical only because the ‘Summer’ part of the British Summer is myssing.) Don’t feel sorry for us, we grew up in the place, it’s part of what makes us British.

(When’s the next flight out of here???)

GROUPIE-FREE ZONE

I’ve been on a few odd days out in my life, I can tell you.  For a start, I’ve had multiple weddings (buy one, get two free) and I once went to a Harvester restaurant.  But although I count myself as a Menopausal Fairy of the World, I’m learning that you never lose the capacity to be surprised.

My friend Anastasia persuaded me to subscribe to something called Groupon.  Now I’m sure most of you are reading this and nodding your heads (not suggesting you have more than one head, was simply imagining more than one person nodding the one head they happen to possess collectively, thereby validating ‘heads’ instead of ‘head’.  NB Do hope that’s not discriminating against those of you who have no head to nod.  Should you be wishing to nod a head, had you had one.  Anne Boleyn might be reading this for example, and these days, what with the discrimination laws and everything, well, you just can’t be too sensitive, can you? Nod if you agree…oh hell, let’s just get on now, shall we?)

Groupon, for those not in the knod, er know, is a website you join for free, which offers vouchers for sometimes heavily discounted goods and services.  (Though I’ve not yet seen anything matching my bargain weddings deal).  You can narrow down your search to local businesses desperate for customers advertising their generosity, and the range of stuff on offer is breathtaking. (Sometimes literally.  See below.) I haven’t yet been tempted to sign up to anything, but were I not busy writing pieces on fish pedicures (who knew that fish had feet???  Or that they needed cosmetic attention???), I would be spoilt for choice with how to spend my days.

Forget my weddings (take a leaf out of my then-husbands book), you couldn’t imagine a more wacky time than some of the potential outings that arrive in my in-box on a daily basis…

…for example, how better to spend a wet Wednesday (that’s the British summer for you – along with wet Thursdays, wet Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays) than enjoying a Medical Assessment in the morning (77% off),  followed by a Handyman Service and Dentistry in the afternoon.  (Presumably the handyman supplies his own drill?).   Or what about 60% off Afternoon Tea for Two, alongside a Holiday Waxing Package (though how you drink tea successfully when you’re lying down screaming so far eludes me).

Here are some more hard-to-turn down temptations:-

* Japanese Teppanyaki for 2 (can’t imagine what that is) / Brazilian Blow Dry (am trying not to imagine what that is)

* Italian Fare with Glass of Wine for 2 / Gastric Band Hypnotherapy (guilt-free scoffing!)

* Three-course lunch for two / Vibration Training (erm…)

* IPL Hair Removal /Kayaking Experience (aaaarrrrggghhhh!!!!  In both cases)

* Manicure, Pedicure and Facial / Nordic Cooking Class (any chef will tell you that prep is important, just look at Marco Pierre White – if he doesn’t get his Brazilian Blow Dry and Vibration session before stepping into the kitchen, all hell’s let loose)

* Laser Hair Removal / Wine Tasting Masterclass (would prefer those in a different order)

Or, if wine isn’t your thing, how about:-

* Laser Hair Removal / Dance Classes (can see the one leading to the other)

To think that on a rare day off (you don’t have the luxury of weekends when you’re self-unemployed) I merely wander into town, buy a newspaper, and read it over a hot mocha. What a waste.

Anyway, if you’re out and about, you’ll easily spot me.  I’ll be the only person around completely un-waxed and un-Tappanyakied, vibrating not even a little, without even so much as a kayak sticking out from the top of my handbag.

No wonder I’ve got so many ex-husbands.

THIS POST CONTAINS NUTS

I bought a teapot today in the sale.  It was cheap, it’s very stylish (I’m a bit particular about teapots) and I needed a teapot.

What I don’t need are assorted labels stuck to crockery that cling on for dear life when you try to peel them off.  OK, so there’s the brand number and bar code, the maker’s name and insignia – I understand what they’re doing there – but I have to admit I’m a bit flummoxed by the presence of a sticker on the bottom of my teapot which warns Product may get hot in the microwave.

Gosh.  Imagine that.

Well, I’m a writer, why don’t they ask me to write them some labels?  Won’t take very long, I’ll do some samples now.  (Anyone know if they pay by the label?  How many teapots do you think they sell in a month?)

NotNiceEtoile’s Label Samples

Product may get hot in the microwave.  If you switch it on.

If product does not get hot in the microwave when you switch it on, your microwave is fucked.

Anyway, what are you doing putting your teapot in the microwave, you idiot?

If you’re stupid enough to put your teapot in the microwave and switch it on, how on earth can you be trusted to make a cup of tea using boiling water?

Did they allow you out on your own to buy this teapot?  

This is a topical matter as it happens, because it was announced this week that the Central Office of Information – a British Government-backed body of information dissemination – was being scrapped.  Sad news for all the people who will lose their jobs, but also for comedians, because over the decades the COI has provided a steady supply of material we don’t even need to fashion into jokes, such is the comedic skill in which the COI’s pronouncements have been honed and polished prior to being released.

In days gone by the organization would buy television advertising slots.  There now follows a public announcement from the Central Office of Information the voiceover would proclaim, which would guarantee that nobody would switch over to another channel as often happens during commercial breaks, because these Central Office of Information public announcements were likely to be the funniest things you’d see on TV that night.

DON’T PUT YOU HEAD IN THE OVEN!

HEATING UP YOUR BATH BY SUBMERSING A 3-BAR ELECTRIC HEATER INTO THREE FEET OF WATER IS UNWISE!

REFRAIN FROM SHOPPING IN THE NUDE WHEN IT’S -20 DEGREES OUTSIDE!

I did some radio work for them once.  One assignment involved interviewing a sports and arts psychologist about how he treated professional athletes and musicians for nerves and stage fright. I went to his flat in London, where he was very welcoming and made me a cup of tea. (My teapot’s nicer than his was).  He nattered away nineteen to the dozen and asked me what questions I was going to ask him. I told him I didn’t tell people what I was going to ask, I wanted natural, free-flowing answers. Standard questions, I said, it wasn’t an exam, I was after an interesting chat.

We sat on his sofa.  I turned on my tape machine.  Asked him for his name so I could adjust the levels.  Nothing came back.  Your name? I repeated. He managed to stutter something. Could have been Mickey Mouse.  (Diction, luvvie!)

I then did a short introduction saying I’m interviewing The Nutty Professor, after which I turned to him and posed my first question – something general like what made you want to be a psychologist?

Silence.

I stared at him.

He stared back at me.  Like a rabbit in the headlights of the car in which Divine Brown was checking to see if Hugh Grant had anything about him which would stand up in court.

More silence.

I switched off the tape.  Nutty Professor, I said, encouragingly.  There’s nothing to be worried about.  We’re just having a conversation, which I’ll edit later.  Talk to me as you have been doing over the tea (in your ugly teapot), and forget the machine.

I switched on the tape again.  This time he (eventually) managed to get out a few words, not in any particular order, stammering all the while.  I (eventually) got ten seconds worth of stuff I could use.  I thanked him and put my equipment away (something Hugh Grant might have been better advised to have done).  He cheered up.  Have you got lots of material?  he asked. Lots, I reassured him. Somehow mystically knowing I’d be writing a blog some years later.

Do you have to be a bit teapot to be a psychologist?  Or just hatstand?  (Haven’t got one of those.  Yet.)

Anyway, bye bye COI.  Bye bye labels telling me my teapot might get a bit hot if I heat it up. Bye bye Health & Beauty journalism as I get rich writing labels for teapots, saucers, plates (dinner and side), bowls (soup and serving), TV aerials, false teeth and small dogs.

My dad always used to joke that it was he who wrote THE END at the end of film credits. Well, I always thought he was joking, but now…

RECYCLED JOKES (WITHOUT THE JOKES)

I’m going to talk rubbish now.  (I know some of you will be saying ‘what’s with the now already?’but don’t be so cheeky.  That’s my job).

When people ask me what I do, the traditional answer used to be ‘I’m a writer’.  These days, though, I think I’m going to have to be honest about how I spend the bulk of my waking hours, which is sorting out the recycling.

For the past few years local councils in the UK have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards anyone throwing anything away. Especially packaging.  (Never understood how it’s OK to beat consumers around the head with an [unwrapped] herring for chucking out the cardboard and plastic and God knows what else batteries are sold with, but that it’s not occurred to central government to penalize the manufacturers for selling the goods like that in the first place. Is it possible to buy batteries loose?  No it isn’t.  But then, British citizens are regarded with total disdain by those who govern them, and you get the impression that the country would be so much better off if only we’d all pack up and go somewhere else.  Which some of us do from time to time.  According to rumour).

When I used to live with the Future Then Husband before I went to Nice, I had dealings with my local authority over their refuse policy. (Now look, feigning surprise doesn’t become you. Smacks of sarcasm, which is the lowest form of wit.  And if anyone knows anything about the lowest form of wit, it’s me, I think you’ll agree).  For one thing, one particular Christmas – a period in which households welcome more guests into their homes than at any other time of year, and cook more than they usually do – we had absolutely no refuse collection for a whole MONTH.  Not even the food waste was taken away. And so dustbins overflowed, with surplus rubbish stashed in bags next to the wheelie bins – which the Council then threatened not to remove, because their policy was to (not) dispose only of the contents of the bin.

Their argument was that the tips charged more for dumping stuff at Christmas.  Oh, OK then. Let’s take (lots of) money off the taxpayers for refuse collection, and not collect it.  (Hang on a minute…perhaps ‘refuse collection’ means they refuse to collect it!  Well, in that case…)

For another thing (yes, yes, it’s one thing after another with me), the Council had also abolished the traditional weekly collection, bringing in a fortnightly service for the whole year (excepting Christmas, when they instigated a no collection collection.  Make a note of that on your calendar, why don’t you.  Must remember – bin men not coming today.  Or today.  Or today…)

The Environmental Services Officer of my borough – and there’s a reason the word ‘mental’ appears in his job title – was a man called Paul Redmond.  A concerned citizen (not me) wrote to him asking about a chicken carcass in the light of the new (non) collection rota. What was she to do with it?  It was a country area already populated by many foxes and rats (whom the Council were obviously thinking of giving the vote, based on their innovative Provision of Food for Wildlife platform), and leaving a chicken carcass outside for two weeks before the bin men came again was surely asking for trouble?

Mr Redmond (or ****face, as he is known to me) replied to her that it obviously wasn’t a good idea to eat chicken, or fish, two weeks before the dustmen were scheduled to appear.  And if she insisted on cooking real food for her family, she should store the leftovers in her freezer, transferring them to the bin shortly before bin day.

This considered reply was reported in that well-known publication of doom, The Daily Mail. I read the article.  I wrote to Mr Redmond.

Dear ****face, I started (do you think this may have alerted him to the fact this wasn’t a fan letter???).  I’m a journalist.  I’d be most obliged if he could explain the Council’s refuse policy to me, especially in the light of central government running a campaign at the time to encourage people to cook real food and stay away from the junk, which causes obesity and many other ailments, the long-term treatment of which was draining vital funds from the NHS.

There was no response for a day or two – I got the feeling there were a few headless chickens running around Waverley Council (at least the carcasses weren’t taking up freezer space) – but then, dear Reader, I received a 27-page document full of nonsense council-speak. As if this explained anything.  Other than what complete idiots these people are.

[If you think Mr Redmond was bad, my then MP – whom I once met at his surgery in Sainsbury’s supermarket (I kid you not) to discuss a local matter I wanted raised – is such a cretin, even I don’t have words to describe him.  He is still the area’s MP – indeed, he is the current Culture Secretary – and never a truer word has been said than by James Naughtie on the Today Programme when he mispronounced his last name somehow or other…LA LA LA…]

Anyway, talking of rubbish (sorry Jeremy Hunt – doh! Given it away there!) the apartment block where I now live has it’s own mini-recycling centre.  There are bins for paper, cardboard, mixed glass bottles, perishable waste, plastic bags, general waste, Alphabetti Spaghetti (A-L, M-P, Q -S, T-Z), old gerbils and foods beginning with ‘K’.  Never mind lifting and separating (underwear has progressed a little since those days), many hours are now spent sorting and bagging (in biodegradable bags), and tagging and nagging (not shagging, sadly) and reading leaflets and helpful signs left by the bins (DON’T PUT THAT IN THERE, YOU LITTLE TWERP!) and having sleepness nights (NO! I’ve already told you there isn’t any shagging going on, why don’t you listen just for once?) worrying about whether they’ll trace my fingerprints from a bottle that wasn’t mixed and knock on my door for putting it in the mixed bottle bin.  (Don’t laugh – why break the habit of a lifetime? – but some local authorities actually put microchips in household wheelie bins to weigh and analyze and castigate and fine.  And you can’t take things to the local tip any more without paying – that is, if what you want to take to the tip is approved of by the Tip Police, who examine every last black binliner you try and offload full of rubbish politicians.)

By-the-way, in a wonderful example of schadenfreude, come the local elections following the abolition of weekly collections, nearly all the councillors who had endorsed the policy were voted out.  And there we shall leave them, lying quietly on the scrapheap (only I don’t think they were worth much per ton as it happens).

Wouldn’t mind, but a couple of years ago it was discovered that many councils were demanding their taxpayers carry out all this finicky sorting of goods on a weekly basis, whilst subsequently secretly shipping the whole lot off in one big pile for landfill in China.

In Nice, you know, you can leave anything and everything out, and the bin men – who come six nights a week, in the middle of the night – take it all.  No exceptions. I’ve seen whole broken up offices left by the side of the road, garden waste, entire Roma communities, and they’ve all been removed by sunrise.  AND the taxes aren’t as high.

But then, where would we be without high taxes and lamentable services?  You’d feel like you weren’t in Britain at all.  And there’s got to be something other than the weather that makes you wonder why the hell you live here.

TALES OF THE RIVERBANK

So somehow or other, here I am in my (latest) new flat.  It’s all been a bit of a whirl, since it’s my third time of moving house in six weeks. But then, I’m nothing if not the Wandering Jewish Menopausal Fairy Minstrel.

And (just starting the sentence with ‘and’ to piss off the annoying young woman I’ve never met who told me off a few months ago on Facebook for starting a sentence with that word. Not that Ms Know-All reads my blogs, ‘cos she hasn’t slapped my wrists about any other of my grammatical foibles.  But don’t you start feeling sorry for her, she’s on FB, she must have friends – mustn’t she? – even though she hasn’t yet worked out how to start a sentence with a capital letter.  Bitter???  Moi???).  Anyway, thanks for distracting me, where was I?

Oh yes.  And this is the nicest place I’ve lived in for, oh, days.

Had to wave goodbye to the Formula 1 Racing Fridge, but luckily I’ve swapped it for the elevator that sounds like a sound FX from Dr Who. Which is Very Bad News Indeed, because this means the Daleks no longer have any problem getting up the stairs.  (Hard to see how they managed to rule the world for eons from the ground floor, but that’s evilness for you, I suppose).

And (HAHAHAHAHA – I have the power!) I’ll let you into a little secret:  the Invisible Man lives in my apartment block.

Not that I’ve seen him myself (what???) but I know because he uses the lift quite a bit.  You see, you’ll be standing in the foyer minding other people’s business, when the elevator suddenly arrives at the ground floor and flings its doors wide open.  And in (or out, who can tell?) gets the Invisible Man.  (Should use the stairs, mate, it’s healthier for your invisible heart).

And (EX-TER-MIN-ATE, EX-TER-MIN-ATE) I’ve never lived on a river before.  Hadn’t realized how busy it is.  Or how noisy.

They teach people to row (not row, row) down this stretch of the Thames.  So you get men with megaphones (why are men sooo hung up on size???  Why don’t they just have phones like the rest of us???) calling out NUMBER 3!  PUT YOUR LEGS TOGETHER! GET INTO RHYTHYM! KEEP YOUR RIGHT HAND CLOSER TO YOUR BODY!  

POINT OF ORDER  We’re talking about rowing here.  If you’re going to lower the tone and snigger you can remove yourself to another post and come back when you’ve erased all smutty thoughts from your head.  Thank you.

Then there are the boats and the cruisers, and the quacky moorhens and the graceful swans (who are silent.  But they’re owned by the Queen, and you can’t argue with breeding now, can you?)

Talking of breeding, there’s a mother swan nesting up river (or is it down river?  Or is that down duvet?) with her family of fluffly grey signets.  I was lucky enough to catch them leaping off the bank to land splashily in the water for a swim the other day.  (Still not enough to endear the royals to me.  Even though they do a fine job with the swans.  Despite looking like horses themselves.)

How far removed all this is from my life in Nice.  AND (how many fingers am I holding up???) I keep getting chatted up!  Not a scenario that often happens with French men.  (But then, the guys in the South of France are so short, I kept treading on them before I noticed there was anyone there, and Merde! Au secours! isn’t that romantic an opener, is it?)  Even one of the removal men (young, plump yet agile, attractive in a Danny Baker kind of a way) kept coming over to chat, and when they departed he took my hand and kissed it, whilst looking deep into my eyes…Do you know the piano’s standing on my foot? he didn’t ask.  (Nice of you to think that.  Very flattering. There’s life in the old fairy yet, I’ll have you know.  STICKS TONGUE OUT)

Anyway, here I am, and here I hope to stay for a while.  At least until I’ve unpacked my old jokes and the young men find out what exactly they should be doing with their right hands.

LAWYER LAWYER BRIEFS ON FIRE

My dad wanted me to be a lawyer.  I don’t know what kind of girl he thought I was but frankly, knowing what I know now, I’d be marginally less offended if he’d suggested I become a prostitute.  Or a politician.  (Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little there.  Even I have some standards).

In the end, it all came down to whether or not my landlord had known there was damp in the property at the time of entering the Tenancy Agreement with me.   Which, looking back, of course he did; he showed me around the newly-painted, unfurnished flat, and I commented on the dehumidifier in the living room (just a little bit of condensation, he said).   Is there damp?  I asked.  No, the previous tenants thought there was damp, but I had it checked out in March, there’s no damp here.  REASSURING (IN HINDSIGHT, CREEPY) SMILE.

And so I moved in.  With a van load of furniture.

Two weeks later the strong smell of fresh paint was wearing off, to be replaced by a stronger aroma of must.  The kind you get when you’ve unwittingly taken a flat with a damp problem and only realize two weeks later that you’ve taken a flat with a damp problem unwittingly. Despite having been told by the landlord that there isn’t any damp.

Cue asthma.  Quite severe asthma.  In fact, the very first asthma attacks in four years, severe or otherwise.

I contacted the landlord.  Asked him to get an expert in.  Which he did.  The landlord couldn’t be there, but the expert confirmed to me there was definitely damp present, and that he sympathized greatly as his wife was asthmatic, and many a time and oft had he had to drive her to A&E.

The landlord didn’t like this report, and so he got another expert to visit the property the next day.  This new guy also affirmed there was damp on the walls, and that he didn’t know Nice but his girlfriend had a place in St Tropez – which he loved – and they went down there every year and it was his grandparents’ damp business and they’d badgered him to join it and so he did because he didn’t want to go to university quite yet because he was sick of studying after his A Levels but he’d already been there for 4 years and he was only 24 and oh this instant hot chocolate’s nice, he’d never had it before [this is the kind of posh damp expert person we get around this leafy part of town. Instant hot chocolate?!  Amazing what they make for the masses these days!]

(I had that NotNiceEtoile in her living room once…)

Anyway, since we’re talking about being had…the landlord told me how ‘shocked’ he was that damp had been found.  That’s right, ‘shocked’ was the very word he used.  He told me this was contrary to what the report he’d had done in March said, and that he’d forward it to me.

And forward it to me he did.

You didn’t have to read far.  Just down to Paragraph 2.  Which came straight after Paragraph 1.

There is damp present.

The landlord denied there was damp present. I asked him what he thought the letters D A M P spelled?  Ah, he said, there might be damp present, but it’s not due to ingress of water.

I put on my best NotNiceEtoile voice and told him it was totally irrelevant to my lungs as to whether the damp was as a consequence of ingress of water, had been delivered by Tesco’s or was left there by aliens (really, I did, and you know it, don’t you?), but ‘there is damp present’ meant – for some obscure reason that escapes me now – that there is damp present.

I took legal advice.  Obvious case of misrepresentation, said the lawyer, which voids the contract you signed because you were induced to move in by way of factual erm, misrepresentation.

This news I gave to the landlord.  I told him I would move out as soon as I found a suitable new property, and since the voided contract meant he was not entitled to take any rent off me in the past, present or future, I wanted back the rent money I’d already paid him.  I also required him to meet my moving costs (didn’t see why I should pay to move my stuff in, and then out again a mere five weeks later) and other assorted expenses.  Otherwise, I told him, I would take him to court (the damp contravenes the Housing Act, in that it made the place unfit for habitation), not to mention pay a visit to the local Environmental Health Officer and invite them to make their own report, which would result in the landlord not being able to rent out the place until the problem was fixed, and which additionally could entail him being sued by the Council for having let out the property over the years in an unfit-for-habitation kind of a state.

The landlord plainly did not want to be taken to court.  And he plainly did not want to show me he plainly did not want to be taken to court.  He entered into negotiations.  Which, on his side, more or less amounted to giving me 50p off a small Marguerita pizza if I happened to find myself in Loch Lomand on 15th November between 5.06 and 5.07pm.  I knew I had a strong hand (the other one’s not bad either), and I held out.

He engaged a lawyer.  Well, when I say ‘engaged a lawyer’, I think she must be a friend of his; he’s in a building industry-related job, and she resides two hundred miles away from where he lives, working in an area of law associated with his line of business, which is entirely unconnected with our disagreement.  And really, though he was not the most honest person in the world and compromised my health in no small way, I do so hope he didn’t give her any money for the service she provided…

…for she was one of the thickest and most inept people I’ve ever had the misfortune to slap around the head with my sparkly wand.  For example: she wrote to me that Mr Landlord did not believe that there was damp present in the flat at the time of signing the contract with me, and that this was still his position.  Still his position?  I asked her if this was the same Mr Landlord who had sent me an email a week ago telling me there indeed was damp in the property?  (And I copied her said email, all for her delight).  So what exactly WAS his position???

She (eventually) replied that Mr Landlord was basing his belief that there was no damp in the property at the time of entering the Tenancy Agreement with me on the expert’s report of March 10th 2011.  Well, I replied, that’s very good to know, since Paragraph 2 of that report categorically states there IS damp in the property.

She came back with an expert says there’s no damp, so I wrote that was a most interesting interpretation of an expert saying there is damp, since it appeared to be an interpretation amounting to exactly the opposite of what an expert had actually said.

We batted a few more emails to and fro before she obviously got a bit bored with it all, with her then communicating to me that if I didn’t accept my 50p pizza token as full settlement of the dispute Mr Landlord would withhold my deposit when I moved out, not accept back the keys, and sue me for indefinite rent.

[WHAT’S THAT SOUND, DEAR READER?  YES, THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S A MENOPAUSAL FAIRY JUMPING UP AND DOWN, RUBBING HER TINY HANDS TOGETHER IN GLEE!]

Well, I replied, I’m not a lawyer, but I have a feeling that the threat to withhold my legally-refundable deposit in a bid to intimidate me into dropping my case in favour of her client and thus relinquish my right to seek justice and a fair settlement in what was plainly a matter of whether the Agreement was valid or not in the first place was unlawful, and if this turned out to be the case I would report her and her firm to the Law Society.  And do you know, dear Reader, the very next email I received from her listed various things they were offering me, including the return of my deposit in full.  Not another mention of (unlawfully) retaining my deposit!

And so negotiations entered a new stage.  In spite of her writing one missive to me addressed to ‘Dear NotNiceEtoile’ (I answered that, to her, it was Dear Ms NotNiceEtoile), and her asking me to give an undertaking that I would vacate the property by 10th June 2010 (I replied that although I was a fairy of many talents, sadly time travel was not one of them, and so sorry as I was, I would not be leaving the place 11 months before I moved into it), we finally came to an agreement.

This was of no mean satisfaction to me.  For although I was more than willing to take the little shi…fty landlord to court, and was very confident of winning, I would have had to wait several months for my money, and a bird in the hand is worth two in a flat which is plainly unfit for habitation.

Won’t go into the protracted negotiations here, except to say that the landlord volunteered to pay my gas and electricity bills for the duration of my stay in the place; this I had demanded before – I had to have an electric blanket running all night long because of the cold, even though it was early summer, and the heating went on every day to dry the towels after my shower, otherwise they would still have been wet through the next morning – but I had long since stopped mentioning it.  So when, in the last stages of hammering out the final settlement, they offered this to me in an effort to get me to drop my more expensive demands, I said you know what?  Since Mr Landlord is offering this, let’s add it to the list of what I’m claiming.  Thus they induced me to up my demands!  (I think ‘irony’ must be one of my favourite words).

He offered me something towards May’s rent in the end, and I got him to double it.  He paid for my removals out of the place, returned my deposit back to me in full, and is indeed meeting the gas and electricity bills.  It was important for him not to give me back the whole of my rent money because that would have implied admittance of liability, and I understand that.

Oh, funny thing I forgot to mention was that I had written to the landlord at the end of May telling him I would not be paying any more rent on the advice of my lawyer, and this he didn’t respond to (although I know he got the email).  A few days into June he sent me an email – please could I pay June’s rent into his account asap?  Here were his bank details…as if there had been no on-going dispute between us for the past couple of weeks!

I’ll do the jokes, mate.  (Well, perhaps not, but don’t tell him, eh?)

And so I’m a happy bunny.  I got most of my money back for the past five weeks of London coughing living, and found the most beautiful place half a mile away from where I was: no damp, freshly-decorated to a very high standard, new carpet and appliances, west-facing balcony over-looking the river. Cheaper rent, too.  So nah nah nah naaah naaah, Mr Landlord.

Anyway, this one’s for my dad.  Long passed away, but probably looking down and thinking Told you so,  NotNiceEtoile.  You should have listened to me all those years ago.

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