Friday, 30 November 2007


I am going... to hell.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Forgotten Stories

I was out for a few drinks with my wayward sister recently, and she told me an interesting story about my grandfather.

Jimmy, as he was known to everyone, died in August, after a long and notable life, surrounded by his family. He was simply the perfect grandfather. Living in a huge house on a hill, each weekend as children, my brother, sister and I, plus whatever friends might be around, would be taken up to visit him. Ever amiable, he would look gently bemused as we tore about the place, making all kinds of mess. He would never reproach us for anything, not as I recall, and visiting Jimmy meant for an afternoon of complete freedom, with sweets. It is one of the highights of my childhood, and that of a number of friends.

In this huge house of his, which he had owned for almost 60 years before selling it in 2004, were all kinds of rooms with all kinds of defunct functions. The pantry, for example, seemed only to hold food of 20 years ago. One person doesn’t strictly need two living rooms. The snooker room was good fun though, as was the “crazy” room – a room filled with spare furniture and nonsense, that allowed for all kinds of deconstruction and chaos. In these rooms, as you might imagine, was furniture and items decades old, as with the decor. Since his wife died young, a year after I was born in 1979, nothing had been changed. Not a conscious effort, you realise, more of an unconscious lack of effort. Why change anything? He was happy with his big old house, once full of family and children.

One of these ancient artefacts was a kind of chest of drawers in one of his living rooms. I remember this throughout my childhood, but never took any particular interest in it. The top section, as I can just recall, and as my sister reminded me, was just packed full of papers, for what I don’t know. The contents of the lower drawers never occurred to me.

But they did to my sister. One day, many years ago and surely when I’d stopped going to his on the weekends, she asked him what was in these drawers. He showed her. It was packed full of photos, old photos, many of his years serving in the war and the years after. If I know Grandpa, these photos would have been in absolutely no order whatsoever (I may have inherited this trait). My sister started looking through them, asking questions about what has going on in each. Jimmy would answer.

Very typical of that generation, Jimmy was not one to eulogise about himself or his past. Unlike today’s media generation, he had a natural reserve. But although he wouldn’t volunteer information about his past, he would always honestly answer as fully as required. He was a Major during the war, serving as a dentist in the Middle East, especially in Palestine/Israel. As I’ve travelled through there, latterly we would sometimes discuss some of the places we’d both been. He seemed to have quite enjoyed it, in the sense of finding it a terrifically interesting experience, in a way that is scarcely conceivable now.

Among the photos, my sister came across an oddity. Jimmy was ever amiable and seemingly ever unchanging. Every photo you’ve ever seen of him, unposed at any rate, is identical – tall and thin, he seems faintly bemused, and relaxed. Timeless, he barely seems to age; maybe the hair thins and some wrinkles appear, but he looks just the same, with the same expression, at home, at work, at war. Except this one photo. Wearing his military uniform, obviously somewhere in the Middle East, he looks stressed. My sister has never seen this expression in him before. “What’s happening here?” she asks, “Why do you look worried?” He tells her: “Oh, that was the day of my court martial.”

During the war, he had two bags. One was for his personal items and the other was for military, in particular his gun, which had to be guarded closely and kept in good working order. One day he had his military bag – his gun – stolen. How exactly this happened I don’t know, but it was regarded as a grevious failing in duty and responsibility, and a serious military offence. In fact, it could possibly be interpreted as one of six military offences then punishable by death! “Aiding the Enemy or Furnishing Supplies”, along with its five compatriots, was only formally abolished as punishable by death in 1998, but during the Second World War still occurred (although last officially occurred in 1942). The morning of the photo was the morning that, as far as my grandfather knew then, in a worst case scenario, might have him sentenced to death by firing squad! Hence this young man in his 20s was not feeling his usual self.

And so the day of this photo, the day of this serious court martial, what happened? Well, the day of his court martial, as it turned out, was the day of the Armistice! He went to his hearing and was told, “War’s over, you’re free.” We’ll never know what the verdict might have been, because Germany had surrendered and everybody could relax and go home.

In fact, it seems my grandfather stayed on a bit longer, for reasons I’m not quite sure of, and then soon after returning home, got a car and drove around war-torn Europe for several months. This was way before foreign travel became even remotely mainstream and was seriously adventurous for its day, and was something I only learnt about after his death. He eventually settled in the Highlands, becoming the first ever dentist for the region, and became a well known figure in the community. The rest – the family, the house, the golf and the whisky – is history, ending just a few months ago but leaving quite a legacy.

It’s curious, the things you don’t know about people you grow up with and take for granted, and with Grandpa I’m sure there’s a bit more. Fortunately, I think my uncle probably knows a fair bit, so I’ll question him next time I see him. With luck too, these old photos may be around too.

Friday, 23 November 2007

King Street Completed

Like some kind of crazy blessed miracle, I'm now into my fourth week at home. In that time, I popped into work very quickly to get my expenses, but otherwise have completely ignored it and enjoyed a rare spell in my adopted home city of Aberdeen, savouring the glorious seasonal weather. I was told by the boss that loads of jobs were just coming up, but as yet "the phonecall" hasn't come. It even appears that I’ll be here for my birthday tomorrow, the first time in Scotland since 2003.

In a perfect world, my time at home would have been entirely spent drinking red wine, playing techno on my decks really badly, gambling online, and with my trousers round my ankles. But as wiser men than me have observed, the world is not perfect. No, it is a filthy dog of despair, ever yapping and biting, and never allowing for rest or relaxation. Thus responsibilities have kept me from my vices.

These responsibilililities, as my beloved regular readers are no doubt aware, take the form of my flats. I have four now, and I arrived back from my eternity in Brazil with three of them empty. This is still the case, but one is now on the rental market and should be occupied soon, and one is in a later stage of development, and should be done in about 5-8 working days. I've just started living in the final flat, and have well and truly fallen in love with it. I checked out, incidentally, the one flat I am renting, and was truly delighted to find the girls have kept it in immaculate condition, and was so pleased I left them a bottle of wine.

More on all of this another time; for now my desire is to discuss the history and transformation of my first flat, that is, the flat recently re-done and now awaiting tenants. I bought this flat, on King Street, in September of 2002, while washing dishes part-time and getting drunk all the time, and the same time too I moved into the mythical castle, where dreams and reality were all too often blurred into total confusion.

Photos, alas, of the early days of this property, don't seem to exist, but for the first few years of its existence it had one bright orange bedroom, one dark purple, and a yellow living room/kitchen with a floor made up of ghastly warping squares of wood strips. Back then, my renting approach was casual to the point of gross unprofessionalism, so I let the place out to a couple of friends and forgot about it, and eventually went to Korea.

It all went a bit wrong then, as some long-planned serious renovation on the entire block took place, which transformed the communal area from a dump into a charming and elegant hallway, double-glazed my windows, and made the whole building structurally sound. All good, but this process and the delays leading up to it left my flat empty for years, and uninhabitable due to the serious mess left by the builders. I returned from Korea to find the place in ruins.

In all the flat was empty for almost two years before I redecorated and rented it out again. In retrospect, my attempts to fix the place up were fairly amateur - it was the first ever time I'd attempted something like this, and with mixed results. Nonetheless, this doesn't excuse the horrendous treatment of it by my tenants. All carpets were left ruined by dirt, grime and ash, walls were filthy, the sofas had lines slashed in them and the kitchen area was a disgusting, sticky mess. Their bedsheets had to be chucked out - after a year unwashed, covering some revolting individuals, there was no hope. After my mammoth effort in the complete upheaval of my second flat, on Nelson Street (as seen on an earlier entry) I really didn’t want to have to immediately start again on a flat done up only the year before, but there was no choice.

I managed two weeks in late June, and was agonisingly close to having it finished, before being sent to Brazil for about four months. Hence only now, during my first week or so back home, have I been able to finish. And so, some photos.

The bathroom was the biggest job, and one left to the professionals. In fairness, this was a long standing problem and not directly the tenants' fault, although I suspect their contribution was less than helpful. Basically, long ago, before my time, tiles had been put up over some kind of incorrect timber, resulting in water amassing between the tiles and timber over time. The first I heard of this was last year, when the neighbour below – a convicted paedophile policeman (incidentally) – complained of water dripping. As seen in the photo, the bathroom tiles “fell” off, surely without any help from my wonderful tenants. The entire bathroom needed to be ripped out, a wall partly reconstructed, and the whole room redone. It didn’t come cheap, but I was very pleased with the results.

We now have a proper, professionally-done bathroom, will nice walls and even tiling. The bath screen works particularly well. I still wonder at the lino, cut perfectly, which seems like nothing less than a miracle in light of my recent efforts to lino the bathroom in my fourth flat.

Here’s the other view. The sink, along with the rest of the suite, is old. Originally, they were going to replace it, but the cost of this was astronomical (£8000 altogether instead of £4000) and the old suite was perfectly good. Except for the sink taps – they’re rubbish. I put in all the units myself. I always go for a pine look to my bathrooms, mainly because B & Q sell a cheap range.

Moving onto the small bedroom now. I don’t have any photos of how my tenants left it, but it was the room that needed less work. Just a new carpet really, as seen here still not properly cut. The wall needed a few dabs of paint, and the curtain rail replaced.

Here are the finished results (minus a new pine chest of drawers and wardrobe that hadn’t been delivered at the time of this photo). The bed needed a bit of fixing, and new bedsheets of course, but this was straightforward and cheap. I’ve always liked the fireplace feature in this room, and think the gloss black is to good effect. The bedside table was actually made by my grandfather, years ago. Also not in this photo is the touch-sensitive lamp, with pastel blue shade, giving that much sought after glimpse of nouveau-countryside luxury chic.

Now, the big bedroom – what a mess. My tenants left the walls and carpet grimy and black. By the time this photo had been taken the walls had been wallpapered and painted, and a new carpet put in. I’m usually diabolical at wallpapering, but was quite pleased by my efforts this time. Of course, having done this, I then made a comprehensive mess of the room as I stayed there while fixing the rest of the flat up. To the left, you can see a few cartons, once containing baked potatoes from “The Tasty Tattie”. Some pizza crust was also left sitting during my entire stint in Brazil. The double bed was covered in my paperwork, a system for which I’m still to find, with me finding what space I could each night to sleep. The piece of crap wardrobe you can see is from Argos, and only a year old. What an absolute piece of total crap. Never buy furniture from Argos. My tenants surely didn’t help, but of all the furniture they lived with, only the Argos stuff didn’t make it out alive (an Argos chest of drawers had a similar fate).

What a difference a clean can make. The bed needed a little fixing, but otherwise is coping well after being bought from new in 2002. The bedside table is also from that year, though second hand I think, and spent most of its earlier life in the kitchen. The two-seat sofa came with the three-seat, in the living room/kitchen, and I’ll tell you about that later. The blue chair, like the one in the small bedroom, used to belong to Justin. For many months I coveted his four blue chairs, knowing they’d work well in my King Street flat, and would hint frequently to him. In the end, of course, the only way I could get hold of them was to buy his entire damn flat. Finally, the orange shelves – this is perhaps just about the only thing, barring the hallway, that had remained untouched over the years.

Here’s the other view of the big bedroom. It’s a very spacious room, hence comfortably fitting in a sofa and large wardrobe. It can alternatively be used simply as a living room, as it was when I bought the flat, but for rental purposes it’s obviously better to use it as a bedroom, especially as the living room/kitchen is of a very sufficient size.

The Three Ages Of Radiator. On the left is the blue-painted version by me when I repainted the whole room last year, and lazily just painted over the orange, as seen centre. This meant that over the year, with my awful tenants, the paint was scratched and peeled off all too easily. Hence I stripped the whole radiator, as seen on the right, before painting it white again, good as new. This radiator could also double as a national flag for some middle-European nation.

The hall just needed a new carpet, plus being cleared of all the crap I managed to fill it with. How do I manage this? Every time I redecorate, I fill every room with clutter. For weeks I had to squeeze past the various items of furniture and bags of rubbish I’d crammed into this small space.

That’s better.

Finally, the biggie – the living room/kitchen. This room was the selling point of the flat for me, as the very spacious room allows more than adequately for a living area, with sofa, as well as the kitchen. I’ve only got one photo of the horrendous state the tenants left this room in, as you can see above. No selling point. The whole room was like this, and worse, with thick ash and grime, and ruined walls and carpet. The cooker too was ruined, but it was on its last legs anyway.

Here is the kitchen after having been mostly redone, and just needing rescuing from myself. A new cooker had come in, the walls repainted and a new carpet installed, and an owl thoughtfully placed next to the microwave.

Here’s the sofa. It’s in this stupid position as I’d taken it from the recess so I could fit and cut the carpet. Both sofas were acquired rather fortuitously last year, for free, from the neighbour or a friend of the exceedingly lovely Rosie (who, incidentally, will be staying in the Market Street flat if she ever returns from Egypt). This neighbour was hilarious. He was registered disabled, legitimately so, and took great delight in exploiting this for parking. Parking outside my King Street flat isn’t necessarily easy, especially when driving with a trailer, as he did the day he took these sofas round, but he found a way – by parking his Volvo and trailer along the pavement, and blocking any poor pedestrians. He just pointed at his disabled badge and laughed. Sometimes I wish I was disabled too.

Now, this is much nicer. The sofa is again nestled perfectly in that fortunately-sized recess, a good quality shelf has been attached (better than last year’s shambolic effort), and some new furniture in place, courtesy of my £450 acquisition of an entire flatful of furniture earlier in the month. The wall light, one of three, is from last year, and was the cheapest from Argos. By a stroke of luck, it is the same shade as the wall, and with the main light on gives the room a soothing, sultry ambience.

And here’s the view of the kitchen area. I’m rather pleased with how it’s turned out. The kitchen unit surface was in a horrible way, so I made my own with some wood and tiles, and hopefully it will be durable. A good new shelf has replaced the ghastly white slab of years earlier, and a table salvaged from Justin’s old flat, together with the enchanting blue chairs, makes a cute little dining area. The stools, quite rickety things if truth be told, are from way back in 2002. I don’t think they’re very useful these days, in light of this new dining area, but they look quite nice. All the cups, glasses, plates, crockery and cutlery came from Asda. I used to think Asda was a place for the underclass, but they do a superb range of budget kitchenware, so I’ve revised my opinion. I’m also told they do quite good food now as well, but who cares about that?

There we are, my King Street flat, after its second revamping. Hopefully too, the last for some time, as it would be nice to get tenants of the calibre of Nelson Street’s. Overall, I’m pleased with how King Street turned out, although I don’t believe it is done overall quite as well as Nelson Street (despite being a nicer flat). It really needs the kitchen wallpaper stripped and repapered, a new boiler, a new shower, and one day I hope to do something major with the attic. But all that is for another day, way in the future.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Water Dilemma

Four flats and no working shower...

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Van/Flats/Power/Whitbread etc

Well, I got back last week, and hasn't it been lovely? Once again surrounded by Aberdeen's grey palour and its bricklike women, and watching the dim light go completely dark by about 4pm. But after months away, all this is very welcome. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say, and thus Aberdeen is my City Of Dreams.

Lots of activity and lack of internet mean I have not had time to write in lurid detail each of my delightful adventures that have taken place over the last week, but I should hopefully be getting internet in my flat soon - and hopefully actually moving into my first proper home in years. For the time-being, some bullet points can describe my Week Of Joy.

- My car has been taken away by the council/police. So I have bought a van. I christen it Van Nev. It doesn't start yet.

- I bought the entire contents of someone's flat for £450. And he helped me move it all.

- I am adjusting to Justin's new flat, and adjusting his old flat. For those that don't know, I generously visit Justin most free evenings to taste and judge his food, and drink his beer. But while he was away he bought a new a flat! And it's miles away! What was he thinking? I bought his old flat off him and currently use it to shower in, because I'm too scared to turn the gas on in my King Street flat (where I'm temporarily residing).

- I almost electrocuted myself today. I don't recommend it. To avoid such incidents, I advise turning off the mains power before grabbing hold of a live wire.

- After about three months of owning it, I finally got power in my Market Street flat. Thanks to my flat-raiding activities mentioned above, I now have a bed too. On Friday I'll have a landline and later internet access. One day I might even consider heating.

- I have met and drank beer with all kinds of wonderful friends, such as the aforementioned Justin, the lovely Kitchen Mark, the enchanting French Claire, the sensational SV, the magnificent Cheesman and a special visit from the incomparable Miss Falconer. Not to mention my sister, Dr Christie, who has provided live-saving medical tips over the phone (i.e. turn off the power).

- I have a very slight cold.

- I have not contacted my work since I got back, and intend ignoring them for as long as possible. I've set myself the wild goal of still being here for my birthday on the 26th.

- Fatima Whitbread MBE (born 3 March 1961) is an English former javelin thrower and multi medal-winner. Abandoned in a north London flat as a baby by her Turkish Cypriot mother, Whitbread spent many unloving years in and out of children's homes before finally meeting her mother again.