24 October 2020

THE LAST RIP-OFF. WELL ALMOST.

 


Getting my dad into his new flat has involved a fair amount of expenditure.

One of the things he decided he would like to get done before he moved out of his house was to have the garden tidied.  There isn't much actual garden as a lot of the area had already been paved when he bought the house but there were overgrown leylandii trees that needed trimming, rampant hydrangeas and brambles, and plenty of weeds that needed dealing with.

Unbeknown to us, he picked up a flier that landed through his letterbox and gave the sender a call.  Two men came and did what was basically a chainsaw job on the garden, hacking everything down and for two hours' work charged him £450.  It looks awful.  In our part of the country you can normally get a much better, more attractive and sympathetic job done for half of that but they saw a frail old man with poor eyesight and ripped him off.  At least he will never fall for something like that again.  The last rip-off I thought.

Well, not quite.  See picture above.  We had talked about what furniture he wanted to take with him and agreed that taking his ancient 1950's bed with the lack of springs to his new flat was probably not a good idea.  We set about finding him a nice comfortable bed and soon discovered that they can cost an absolute fortune and in the first three showrooms we visited there were signs that said "order now for Christmas delivery".  With him about to get the keys to his flat in a week's time we began to wonder if we could get him one in time until we stepped into the shop above.

The beds were much more reasonably priced and they could deliver the day before he was due to move in.  Bingo!

However, you do get what you pay for and whilst it's hard to see how, at 92 years old, he might need a top of the range bed with a ten year guarantee, we were not prepared for such totally abysmal service.  How hard can it be to put a base, headboard and the correct mattress on a van and deliver it?

Alarm bells were sounding faintly in the background when the young man that brought the bed said he couldn't take it to the first floor flat for us because he was only supposed to drop it at the front door and in any case he hadn't got a mask.  Nick and I struggled it in and out of the lift and along the corridor ourselves only to discover that the mattress was not the one we had ordered, the base had castors instead of the fixed feet we had asked for and the delivery person had driven off without leaving us the headboard.  Why does everything have to be so hard to do and why don't people simply do their job properly?

We had all on to get them to do anything about it.  The factory manager didn't call us back, the shop stopped answering the phone and only agreed to deliver another bed after we went back there and made a fuss.  A big fuss - and all very time consuming - the ringer on the shop phone had been switched off.  They agreed to bring a new mattress, take away the wrong one, bring a headboard and the correct feet, giving us a delivery time on Saturday of "between 7am and 7pm".  My dad in the meantime had to use the mattress they had wrongly sent for three nights.

So we were round at my dad's flat early this morning and sure enough the replacements arrived about 10am.  The different young man this time was polite and helpful, doing most of the lifting and dragging of the mattress to get it into the flat and taking away the wrong one by himself.  Mind you, he also tried the "no mask so I can't enter the building" trick but I wrong footed him by bringing a pack of disposable masks out with me.  I'm not as green as I'm cabbage looking, Sunshine !!

Dad is settling in well considering there is so much to take in.  It's a great shame that he didn't do this five years ago when he was physically and mentally fitter and could have made more use of what the development has to offer.  Still, he's there now, he's safe and, if a bit overwhelmed, should never again be taken advantage of by unscrupulous tradesmen who see him as an easy target and a soft touch.


15 October 2020

BACK ON TRACK

 

We're back on track with my dad's flat.

We addressed all his worries one by one and none of them were difficult to resolve.  The worries of an old person who lives alone and has nobody to bounce ideas off unless he picks up the telephone.  We all know how problems can get out of proportion in the middle of the night when you can't sleep for thinking about them.

We went to view the flat that's available and it's super.  Clean, modern, well equipped and safe.  I could live there myself.  In fact I couldn't have designed it better for an old person to live in.  Underfloor heating so no radiators - which makes more wall space available for furniture.  A walk in wet room with access from the hall and the main bedroom.  A second bedroom for visitors or to use as a study.  Emergency pull cords everywhere.  We accidentally tested that they worked when Nick caught one with his tape measure and within seconds there was a call loud and clear from the warden.  Perfect.


Of course nothing is ever completely perfect.

Knowing a little about how eyesight changes with old age, I would not have installed dark kitchen units and especially not a dark worktop.  Even with good eyesight it would be hard to see if they need a wipe clean.  Still, the lighting is good and we can get round that.  The oven is thoughtfully at eye level and has a door that opens sideways, not downwards, which means no leaning over it to get things in and out of the oven.  As I said, well thought out.

All being well he will sign up for it and get the keys on Monday.  We have already ordered a new bed for him which will arrive on Tuesday.  We "strongly advised"  against him taking his ancient iron bed that he bought with Mum in 1950 when they were married.  Most of the springs broke years ago and have been replaced with planks of wood.  He was sceptical at first but when he sat on the new divan in the bed shop he couldn't wait to get it delivered.  

Whether or not we can get everything else organised so that he can actually move in on Tuesday is another matter.  We're going to be busy!!



13 October 2020

THE STATE OF THE NATION

 


I borrowed this from facebook, apologies if the rude word offends those of a sensitive disposition.

We're in a little oasis of low infection in the dodgy part but we are surrounded.

The rules can be found on the GOV.UK website.

10 October 2020

ANOTHER HILL TO CLIMB


The weather has been pretty miserable here in the UK more or less since we ended our time in quarantine.  It has rained on and off every day, sometimes quite heavily and everything is beginning to look very sad and soggy.  There is no doubt that winter is not far away.

We had some good news on Wednesday.  My dad has been offered a flat in the sheltered housing block.  The bad news is that he seemed rather luke warm about it when I gave him the news and the next morning he phoned to say he had changed his mind and didn't want to move after all.

Another hill to climb.

It's been far too long since he first had the idea that he would like to go into some kind of assisted housing, eight months in fact.  It's seven months since we handed in his application for a flat and he has deteriorated a lot since then.  He is much more frail and we're hoping that this is just a touch of the collywobbles.  The prospect of moving is daunting for anyone but if we don't move him now it will become much more difficult in the future.

Here's a little story to illustrate one of the reasons why we need to get him to a safer place.

My brother was visiting regularly while we were in France and one Saturday, as they sat at the table in the window to eat lunch, he saw a white van drive down the road, past the other houses, and stop directly outside Dad’s house.  The driver got out (my brother described him as a rough looking gypsy type) and rang the doorbell. 

My brother answered the door and the man said he could “seal the drive for him”.  My brother said "no thanks" and the man became flustered and insistent.  My brother said "no thanks"  again and shut the door.  The man went back to his van and drove off, apparently not having stopped at any other houses.  It appeared that my dad's house was his only target.

My brother was quite shocked by the incident.  We dread to think what might have happened if he hadn't been there.  I can imagine my dad being easily intimidated into parting with money for something he didn't need just to get rid of the man as things like this have happened before.  We have told him not to answer the door to someone he doesn't know but I think old people get to the point where they simply forget what to do and these people are experts at either gaining their trust or just intimidating them.  It has been suggested that we get one of those notices for the door that says "we do not buy from doorstep callers" but I wonder if it advertises the fact that there is an elderly and vulnerable person inside.

He has fallen foul of several scams in the past and spent thousands of pounds on things he didn't need and couldn't afford.  These people have no conscience, they are spineless and heartless and if I could, I would line them up, and push them all off a cliff into a very deep pit.

3 October 2020

INSURANCE MATTERS AND OUR FAVOURITE TOWN



We returned to the UK after eight glorious weeks in France.  Eight weeks is the period of insurance cover we have for our UK house when we're away and also for our travel/health insurance.  
That original plan was that after eight weeks in France, we would spend just a couple of weeks in the UK then go back to France for another eight weeks.  That second trip to France became unlikely once it was on the "no go" list for UK holiday makers, in other words once the Foreign Office Travel Advice was for "essential travel only".

Once we realised that a second trip to France was not going to be possible we hatched a plan to extend our first stay beyond the eight weeks, until the middle of October.  Then we would pack up the house for the winter and call it a day.  Or call it a year.  (What a year.)  Which meant we would be in France for two weeks after our house and travel/health insurance had expired but we thought we would risk it.

However, with infections rising and the possibility of new restrictions on travel and meeting up with others on both sides of La Manche, we made the last minute decision to pack up early and head home.  The closing up of the house was done in a bit of a rush but hopefully we didn't forget to do anything too important, like locking all the doors!



The insurance issue is a tricky one.

For years, decades in fact, house insurance was not an issue as we were only away from our UK house while on holiday, ie for a maximum of two or three weeks at a time.   Our household insurance covered us for that.  Equally for at least ten years we didn't even consider taking travel/health insurance.

All of that changed when we began spending six or eight weeks at a time in France.  The situation with house insurance is that because our UK home is our principal residence we are not covered if we are away from it for too long.  The insurance for our French house is different because it's a maison secondaire - regarded as a holiday home so expected to be left empty for long periods and, in some cases, most of the year.  

In reality, after making a couple of phone calls to our insurance company, it turns out that our cover could be extended beyond eight weeks if someone who regularly stays in the house does so for one night every week.  Most insurance companies don't offer this option.  Most say that it has to be the householder who has to stay overnight.  Hence we know plenty of people who, like us, spend six months in France every year with one or other of them dashing back to the UK for a couple of nights to reset their insurance period for the next eight weeks!  In our case it suited us fine as we wanted to catch up with friends and family every so often anyway.

We have a friend in the UK who calls at our house once a week to check that everything is OK and forward any post that looks like it can't wait.  She offered to do the weekly stay over.  Which sounds fine but......I have this instinctive distrust of insurance companies.  They will find a way to avoid paying out for anything if at all possible and it occurred to me that if we were burgled or something, they could do some detective work and might find out that our friend doesn't really stay there regularly and - well, we wouldn't be covered.



The travel insurance is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Whilst we were members of the EU, and until the end of the transition period on 31st December this year, the UK has a reciprocal arrangement with France and other EU countries using something called an EHIC card.  This gives all UK travellers the entitlement to emergency health cover in the country they are visiting, so for years we simply relied on that and didn't think we needed anything else.  We don't after all really need travel insurance as such as we are under our own steam, driving ourselves to our own property - we don't have to rely on airlines or have a risk of lost luggage.

Then we learned of a friend who had a serious accident in France and that made us think again.  He and his wife were spending their holidays in France, doing up an ancient property like so many Brits do, and he had a bad fall.  He fell from the beam in the barn where he was putting in a floor and broke his back.  The EHIC card came into play and emergency treatment was given but he was not covered for repatriation to the UK.  He had to be transported by private ambulance accompanied by a doctor and the bill for that was £20,000.  Ouch!

Luckily he had travel insurance that covered it and ever since we heard the tale we have taken out an annual policy.  The £150 premium seemed good value compared to a hefty bill for repatriation - you never know what might happen after all.  Sadly, because of our age, the maximum period of cover we can get per trip is eight weeks.  In actual fact, we can get single trip cover for up to twelve weeks but as the house insurance is for only eight weeks and we had to return to the UK every eight weeks, there seems little point.  

Of course, all of this is irrelevant come the end of the year.  The EHIC card will be ancient history and all travellers to France will have to have health insurance.  Goodness only knows how much that will cost.  We have friends who are convinced that when push comes to shove there will be "a deal" and some kind of reciprocal health cover will be part of it.  We will see.



So, we are back in the UK for probably the next six months.  Our travel insurance expires next month so we will soon find out how much more it will cost us to be covered for next year.  On top of that we have the visa situation which will cost quite a bit, including a new passport for me as I need to have at least six months left on it at the time of applying for a visa.  It's all so costly and complicated.  So much for the benefits of leaving the EU, there are absolutely none at all for us that I can name - just more expense and aggravation.

We are out of quarantine and catching up with errands.  The first week seemed to fly by but the last few days really dragged.  Not that we ran out of things to do - we just lacked the motivation to get on with them.  Now that we're "out of jail" we are busy hurtling about getting all the stuff done that has had to wait; haircuts, doctor's appointments, car servicing, etc., etc.  

We are also on tenterhooks for the result of the allocation meeting at my dad's sheltered housing place next week.  We have absolutely no idea if he will be offered an apartment, or just put on a waiting list, or his application rejected.  The criteria used remain a mystery, as if we are playing a game where the rules are made up as you go along.  We are also keeping fingers crossed that, should he be offered an apartment, more restrictions are not reintroduced to ban visitors to the building.  If that were to be the case, who knows, we might not see him again for months.

These photos were taken in Chinon, a week or so before we came back to the UK.  It remains our favourite place in France and we have enormous fondness for it.  It was quiet on the day we visited.  We encountered no other English tourists at all as so many of them made the rush back to the UK when the quarantine rule came in at less than two days' notice.  There were a few Dutch and Belgian tourists taking lunch in the beautiful square with the fountain where we have sat so many times before.  
I remember taking in the ambiance, luxuriating in the perfect weather and wondering if we would come back before we returned to the UK.  We didn't, but I have the pictures - of old doors and windows, mostly !!

23 September 2020

THE END OF SUMMER

 



Well, the autumn equinox has been and gone and the evenings are getting rapidly darker.  We are now in day eight of our two weeks' quarantine and until today it has been easy.  The weather has been wonderful.

We have spent plenty of time in our little garden, throwing the ball for Hugo who can't go out for walks.  It's been lovely to sit in the warm sunshine - not warm by Loire Valley standards of course, but very warm for Derbyshire.  Yesterday the temperature reached the giddy heights of 24°C.  The garden is full of colour and I picked some of the flowers to have indoors - to cheer us up when the weather turned.  As forecast, today it has been a very cool 16°C and it has rained, on and off, all day.

Time now to get on with some of the jobs we had planned and that we thought would fill our time during our "house arrest".  First job for me is a huge pile of ironing.

We had been contemplating going away for a few days, to a cottage in Wales perhaps, or in Norfolk.  The cottage we rented in Anglesey a few years ago is available and we even invited my brother to come along with us.  He hasn't had a holiday of any kind this year at all.

But then we chickened out.  All the signs are that by mid October the country could be in a terrible state again.  As the PM smirks his way out of answering questions (except for the "would your dog like my breakfast?" kind of questions from his own side of the house) people are bracing themselves for a very uncertain next few months.


For our last day of summer we ate outdoors and had a salad.  It seems that on both sides of la manche other people think we're barmy.  Our French neighbours only seem to eat outdoors if it's roasting hot and then they sit there for hours, long into the evening.  Here, back in the UK, our neighbours never eat out at all, as far as I can tell.  We never hear the clinking or glasses or the clattering of plates anywhere around us, although we have seen our nearest occasionally take a mug of tea into the garden.


Our salad was a a glorious concoction of bits and pieces from both our homes, the lettuce, feta cheese, olives and walnuts having been cleared out of the French fridge before we departed.  The tomatoes, eggs and duck (leftover and sliced) arrived in our hurriedly put together supermarket delivery, compiled before we left.  We did it in such a rush, realising at the last minute that we would not be allowed out to shop, that we forgot to put on things like bread but did add some things that make us smile.  Like duck in plum sauce, an almost ready meal, that you just bake in the oven, and salad cream.  It's funny what you think you need when things might get tough!

On our salad we had a blob or two of salad cream.  Do you remember when, back in the 90's I think, Heinz threatened to stop making salad cream?  Sales of it had fallen due to the popularity of more trendy dressings such as mayonnaise and vinaigrette.  Nobody much was buying it any more, or so it seemed.  However, the public revolted, sales soared again and it remains on the supermarket shelves.

Which just goes to show how the people can get what they want when push comes to shove.  It's going to be an interesting winter.


19 September 2020

MISSING FRANCE ALREADY


Our period of quarantine is passing quickly.  We're four days in so far, only ten days to go and plenty to do at home.  Nick has been tidying the garden, cutting the grass and trimming overgrown plants.  I have been unpacking the hurriedly packed bags of clothes and other stuff, washing the linen that we brought back with us and thankfully being able to dry it outdoors on the line.  We have jigsaw puzzles on hand for if we get bored and have spare time on our hands.  I intend to sort my neglected stamp collection and bring it up to date.  Nick has some DIY jobs to do; doors to paint, light fittings to change.



The weather is amazing.  You would never know that we are already past the half way point of September.  The autumn equinox is just around the corner but we have had a bbq at lunchtime today, hanging onto the last of the summer.


We're missing France already.  September is our favourite month to spend there with the warm days yet cooler nights.  Normally we would stay until the end of October or early November, then finally closing up the house and returning for the winter.  To have to leave in the middle of September is such a shame, but it has been a tormented year.  We feel lucky to have been able to go to France at all and not that many months ago thought it would be impossible.  We had eight glorious weeks there, a good run.

With a feeling of impending doom we are preparing to batten down the hatches again.  Goodness only knows what awaits us.  Whilst pubs and restaurants are having curfews imposed, some football grounds are welcoming back spectators - in a covid safe and socially distanced way.  Like all the other supposedly safe easing of restrictions I can't see it going well.

It could be a very long winter this year.