Category Archives: lifestyle

Colony.

In September of 2014 I moved  into an intentional community. Based on “One Earth” principals, ( i.e. how could we all live if we only had one Earth to live on?”, it offered a sustainable, low impact lifestyle whilst offering a high level of walkability. I expected and assumed that most of the people who chose to live there would be doing so based on wanting to shrink their carbon footprint, reduce the amount of driving in their lives and reduce their levels of consumption and possessions. I wasn’t expecting a latter day New Lanark, or some Herbert Morrison style socialist paradise with everyone living in yurts and knitting their own yogurt,  but I imagined an open, collective-minded community with a strong spirit of identity.

Alas, this is far from the case. Most of the home owners appear to be empty nesters who sold their McMansions , bought something smaller and pocketed the difference. I think they were less motivated by the solar panels, ductless heat pumps and superb insulation than by the chance to trouser a substantial wad of cash, move into a new home and still be within a few minutes walk of the throbbing groin of Downtown.  To be honest, despite my jokes about the neighbours when I moved in, the overwhelming stench of Pachouli, stewed lentils and unwashed armpits would have been preferable.

Instead what we have  is society writ small. The owners already look down on we renters, as indeed do the developers, who distributed guest parking passes to the owners, but not to us.

There are a number of ways to spot members of the chattering classes, and I’ve seen several examples over the last few months: There are a  considerable number of young children here, not a bad thing in itself, but having to dodge abandoned toys and the like is irritating, especially in the dark, or when wheeling groceries from the car to the house. Indeed, an email was circulated asking parents to deal with the issue of bikes, toys etc left lying on the lawn and pathways overnight as well as the damage caused to someone’s garden bench by crayons and paint.

Now, if you were brought up by parents like mine, you would have been expected to tidy your things away at the end of the day and would have been taught how to be a decent member of society and be aware of other people. Guess what? These people aren’t like that. Their solution, so as not to spoil the creativity of their little darlings –  precious snowflakes all, no doubt – was to form a “Circle” , i.e. a Kaffee Klatsch to discuss the issue. This is their solution to all issues, though we never  seem to hear of any resolution. It appears to me that the circle jerks decide what they want, and the rest of us can go to hell.

The worst example of this is the parking. Each residence is allocated one spot with four guest spots available.  The Politburo – the biggest circle jerks of all –  has now decided that each person will be given a designated spot allocated allegedly on the location of their home and size of their car. When I read the initial email I had one hell of a job getting fragments of exploded bullshit detector out of the walls, believe me.  No doubt the best and most convenient spots will go to those who made the decision and their friends.

This, however, is not enough for some people.  Despite  being well aware of the parking situation before moving in, one couple recently announced that they would like to rent a second spot in the lot, and are willing to pay $50 – $75 a month. Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – A MONTH. You can’t find bicycle parking for that price. I knew that most of the residents were self important pricks with a sense of entitlement, but this just takes the biscuit. Preferably one that’s just been in a circle. I’m not sure who the people in question are, but I don’t think I’ve seen the husband. The guy must need a wheelbarrow to push around his enormous balls, and I’m sure I would have noticed that.

So what do I do? the kids love the place. On their first weekend here, my daughter walked to the library three times just because she could. They live in an area with no sidewalks and miles from downtown so I can’t say I blame her. It’s safe to let them go out on their own, and downtown is small enough that they can’t go far anyway. It’s handy for the boat and I love being able to walk to the store. In my previous house, any trip involved the car and if I forgot something I just had to do without, whereas here there is no hassle in popping out again, indeed, I often end up going to the store twice in one day. There’s no way I could find a place this new in a similar location for the same price, and moving off island would increase my gas costs and make it harder to see the kids during the week.

I realise that some of this is down to me ( see “I’m Coming Out”), and it’s been 18 months, so it’s a bit late to start making the effort, although I’m trying my best to be friendly to people. I’d hate to have to move if I can’t find a job before the money runs out, (see “Black Coffee In Bed”) but it might come to that. Despite what I’ve said, I really like living here – it suits my needs and is incredibly convenient and it’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived, apart from the kid’s house. I don’t have an upbeat ending for this post, sorry. Let’s just hope my next housewarming party doesn’t take place in a discarded refrigerator box. “Spare a talent for an old ex leper” anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Street Life.

I apologise for posting so soon, but as I have four already lined up, I’d rather just get on with it.

Like most people, I inhabit two  worlds : that of home and that of work. We all change hats several times a day between parent, partner, co worker, friend etc, over the course of the day, but I have a very distinct split between the two physical spaces I inhabit on a daily basis. I live in a pretty small town and to say that they roll up the sidewalks at seven pm would not be too much of an exaggeration. My morning 15 minute walk to the boat is along  a gravel path and then the main drag. The only other people I encounter are fellow commuters and the occasional delivery guy dropping off supplies at any one of the numerous “Downtown” stores. It’s a quiet walk along a well maintained and clean pavement  with uninhabited doorways all the way down. On the boat, my fellow passengers are decked out in durable outerwear and The North Face, Arcteryx and REI labels abound. They sit chatting or reading, often from screens whilst sipping ( I assume  shade grown, fair trade organic) coffee from travel mugs or from Thermos flasks that resemble nothing so much as post – modern artillery shells and eat whatever they have brought for breakfast.

Upon reaching the other side, one is faced with two options: One can either be assailed by the stench of stale urine, or by taking a different route, a host of Somali town car drivers touting for business. The choice is yours. I go for the urine free route as it is not only quicker but also less upsetting. This doesn’t last for long however as the first sight that greets me upon leaving the terminal is that of someone sleeping underneath the eaves of the Subway outlet wrapped in the sort of felt blanket used by movers to protect furniture. It gets worse. after crossing the road the first thing I see is a small dome tent set up underneath the viaduct, the guy ropes held in place by concrete blocks and a wheelchair parked outside. Just dwell on that for a moment. This tent along with a couple of others nearby seem to be permanent fixtures, and I can’t even begin to imagine what life must be like for their residents. Nor do I really want to, if I am being honest.

The rest of the walk is fairly uneventful as the residents stir from their doorways and collect in small huddles in the park or near the day center front doors, waiting for them to open. There are a couple of exceptions: namely the scrawny individual in heels, fishnets and leather mini skirt who was several yards ahead of me one morning. Lets’ face it, most people aren’t dressed like that at 7 AM and my first reaction of “That’s a dude” proved disturbingly accurate. The other is the man camped in the corner doorway at the last light before my office who on at least two occasions last week greeted the new day by hurling abuse at someone only he could see.

The evening walk is sometimes offers more more interesting sights, including the old guy, naked from the waist up throwing various items of clothing into his open suitcase which was lying in the road to the obvious amusement and bemusement of the onlooking police officer waiting for his backup to arrive. Or perhaps the woman who seemed to be engaged in a mixture of interpretive dance and traffic direction despite the lack of either music or traffic. Other locals are in full vigour and never seem to miss a chance to hit someone up for money. I will admit that they are always polite, and begin with “Sir, sir!” before introducing themselves and inquiring about your general well being before asking for enough cash (often $10) to pay for a bed at a certain local hostel. Now, I realise that Christians can be a pretty uncharitable group at times, but I find it very difficult to believe that even they would charge a homeless person $10 for a bed. Needless to say I avoid such encounters as much as I can, as not only do I not carry much cash, (due largely to not having much anyway) but I’m not as green as I’m cabbage looking, and earphones and a brisk walking pace also help one avoid most interactions.

I realise this all sounds a bit harsh, but what am I supposed to do? Any money I give will no doubt be used to buy either a hit or a 40 ouncer, and I’m just not going to support that. Within 45 minutes of leaving work I am back home, in my slippers and ready to enjoy dinner. I know my commute sounds a bit like a case of “Cheap holidays in other people’s misery” but how many of us are absolutely sure that we are not just one financial disaster away from standing on a street corner with  a message on a piece of cardboard in one hand and a used soda cup in the other? I’m damn sure I’m not.

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Food Glorious Food.

As most of you are aware, I like my food, and it shows. I have always appreciated a well stocked larder, especially now as I live in an active earthquake zone. The old house had a huge Sub Zero brand refrigerator which pretty much set the standard for fresh food storage. My current place came with a Hotpoint of indifferent appearance and lacking even an ice maker though I managed somehow. Initially I was having a heck of a problem with ice buildup in the freezer compartment, though this problem was solved by the maintenance guy plugging the hole in the rear of the unit which provides access for the water pipe to the non existent ice maker. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Not only did ice continue to build up, this time around the door rather than the rear, but the fridge compartment was not cold enough to even stop the butter from softening. Once again I put in a maintenance request and after the usual game of phone tag spoke with the coordinator we agreed that as I am now out of the house 12 hours a day ( see “Career Opportunities”) I would empty the fridge, putting the perishables in coolers on the kitchen counter and that he and his team would replace them once the work was completed. This seemed fair as the job would involve removing the old fridge and bringing in a loaner while repairs were undertaken, especially as they would have to lug loaner up the stairs.

Having removed the bookshelves and shoe rack from hallway the previous evening, I dutifully packed the coolers and left them on the counter before heading off to work. Little did I know that the coordinators’ words would be so prescient: when making the arrangements, he said “Everything will be back in the fridge, just not in the right place” Ooooh, how half right he was.

I returned 36 hours later, having spent the previous evening with my sweetie and barely had time to drop off my bags before heading out to pick up the kids for dinner when my eyes were greeted by guess what? The full coolers sitting on the counter where I had left them a day and a half previously! Let me repeat that. The entire contents of my fridge had been      left  un-refrigerated  for 36 hours.  As you can imagine, this made me very unhappy as I now had absolutely nothing to give the kids for dinner. At least the trip to and from their house gave me a chance to calm down a bit. I called the guy in charge and was greeted by his voice mail. I didn’t swear, largely because the kids were in the room, but I made  clear in no uncertain terms my anger and outrage at the situation. I also made it patently clear that the management company would be paying not only for the full replacement cost of the contents, but also any meals I had to buy as a consequence.  I believe the phrase “Epic fail” was used several times in my message, but I was so angry I can’t give an accurate count.

After we returned from the diner, “Moe” (not his real name) called, apologised and admitted full culpability, which assuaged me somewhat, as did his promise to “Take care of things”.  I took the opportunity to email him and his boss regarding what I expected, and was met with no resistance at all. I think it fair to say that I was abrupt, direct and forthright in my email, but at least I managed to avoid obscenity or the use of outright threats, which is quite an achievement, considering the circumstances.

It took me about a week and a half and several trips to replace the contents, made easier by the fact that I’d made sure to document every spoiled item before making trips to the dumpster  and email the list to the interested parties. Leaving aside the time, mileage, wear and tear and general mental anguish, the total came to $480. I know this sounds like a lot, and it is, but as I was buying new to replace used, as it were, it all added up. I can’t really walk into the store, buy a quart of milk and then ask the checkout guy to pour out 2 1/2 pints, can I? Of course, I kept all my receipts both for shopping and meals so that I could back up my claim. I expected a quick resolution, but it took a little over three weeks for the cheque to arrive, and only then after I’d dropped all attempts at humour and understanding and threw a bit of snippiness into my third email on the subject.

Needless to say, I could have done without all the grief involved in all this, but at least I ended up with a fridge full of brand new food and in rather more quantity that prior to the “Great melt” of ’15.  I suppose I should be grateful that I lost only the contents of my fridge and not the contents of my drinks cabinet. Had the latter occurred, not only would I have been considerably angrier, but the replacement cost would have run well into four figures, something for which I’m sure the property managers are extremely grateful.

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Space Oddity.

As you may remember (see “The Boxer”) I had to move out of my old place before the new one was ready, and so it was that in mid September I was finally able to move in, in fact, I started the process the day after returning from Kauai (See “Une Ile”), so at least I was well rested. Rather than struggling alone, I bit the bullet and paid for professional movers to do the literal heavy lifting. There was no way I could play the beer and pizza card again with friends, and never even considered it, and in addition, I have one very special piece that I wouldn’t even dare move without professional help. It’s a fully restored Danish Mid-century Modern wall cabinet in Rosewood which I bought from a friend as a suitable home for my extensive and expensive booze collection, and it looks as good as it sounds.

As promised, two hefty lads turned up in a moving van and proceeded to load up while I filled the car with all the random crap that always takes an age to move. Yes, I know, but seeing as it was costing me $105 an hour, I felt it to be a worthwhile use of my time.  After the main items were in the house, including the bedroom set which had to be carried up two flights of narrow stairs with tight turns, the fun began: unpacking.

I say “fun” in a sarcastic way because one of my new places’ failings is the lack of storage space. It has a number of others, but I won’t go into all that now, except to say that reality fell far short of promise. Apart from the kitchen cabinets and pantry the only storage in the whole house consists of a small closet in each bedroom. I’ve spent much of the intervening four weeks finding interesting and creative ways to put a quart into a pint pot. It feels like everything I own is inside something else, like some huge, bizarre Matryoshka doll. The spaces under both beds are packed with essentials, largely spare bedding still in the packaging and the closets are organised in a manner that would make a Tetris world champion proud. In fact, it is only recently that the spaces under the coffee tables have not been crammed with banker boxes, although the only way to store my brewing gear was to stuff it into the bottom of the pantry.

On the upside, though, the move gave me the opportunity to get rid of a lot of stuff. I’m not a pack rat, but I am a sentimentalist, although it was the pragmatist in me that walked two boxes of old soccer magazines down to the recycling bin. I’ve built up quite a stash since 1992,  but even I have to agree that if you haven’t read something in 0ver 10 years, it’s time for it to go.

I also took the opportunity to donate a very large bag of clothes. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight over the years, and many of my clothes whilst in good condition are far, far too big for me (see “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” and “Sharp Dressed Man”), so it was no great loss to bag up the 3XLT flannel shirts, 2XL polo and short sleeved shirts as well as all the old 38″ waist dockers that have been languishing in my closet for so long. I even got rid of some of the tee shirts I brought with me from England, including my Oscar Wilde and Sir Ian Hunt tee shirts, although even I have to admit that they were well past their best and not fit to be worn in public.

In the end, a certain level of harmony was achieved, and I can now move around the house without having to resort to the sort of gyrations that would put an Olympic gymnast to shame, or move every box just to find a single item. The only minor issue is what to do with my books. Having filled the only bookcase I have, and used both demising walls at the top of the staircases, I’m left with six large plastic storage bins crammed with books taking up a corner of the dining area that I can ill afford to lose to storage. Oh, and before you even think it, no, I’m not getting rid of them. Someone else can deal with that once they’ve nailed down the coffin lid and prised my last read out of my cold, dead hands

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My Death.

Lest you all start popping champagne corks and bursting into spontaneous renditions of “Happy Days Are Here Again”, let me assure you that I am in excellent health. Having turned 50 I recently underwent a  couple of medical tests and whilst they were both positive in their findings, they resulted in me spending more time than usual contemplating my mortality. Most people my age have college age kids, and most people with kids the ages of mine are a good ten to fifteen years younger than me, so this leaves me in a sort of generational netherworld.

I’m being purely selfish here, in that I often wonder if I will live long enough to see my grandchildren. Yes, I know how petty that sounds, but I see how much my dad enjoys spending time with my kids, and my mother just adored my daughter so it makes me jealous to some extent. My son is twelve and if things pan out as I hope, he will go on to get some sort of engineering PhD after graduation. He may well have to invent the particular branch of engineering in question, so at best, it may be 20 years before he starts a family. My daughter is only 9, so twenty years doesn’t seem unreasonable for her either, seeing as she is as needle-sharp as her brother. I hope that I will be a hale and hearty seventy year old, but one never knows what will happen. There is an old joke that goes: “How do you make God laugh? – tell him your plans”.

Whilst unpacking in my new home ( see “Space Oddity” – coming soon) I found a couple of old photographs: one was of my son when he was not yet two years old, the other of him and his sister taken a little over a year later. Not to get maudlin, but both pictures showed two adorable, sweet, happy and contented children and I couldn’t help but think about their development over the intervening years and how much wonder, joy, satisfaction and pride I’ve enjoyed in seeing them flourish. That sweet little round cheeked boy has now turned into a sensitive, intelligent, handsome young man and his sister is an insightful thinker, artist, soccer player and equestrian who is, I am sure, bound for greatness in at least one of those fields.

It breaks my spirit to think that I may not live long enough to see my putative grandchildren reach the age my children are at now. I’m pretty sure I won’t be around for their college graduations unless medical science makes some significant advances in the next two decades. Grandchildren are the payback generation, in that we put in immense amounts of physical, emotional and financial resources to ensure that our kids have as fulfilling a childhood as possible in the knowledge that when they themselves become parents we can sit back, reminisce about the early years and dote on our grandchildren who will never know what it was like to be a parent at the start of the century.

I think also that grandchildren are the ultimate validation of our parenting skills in that they are proof that we raised well rounded human beings who were fully aware of, and integrated into the world so that they had the skills to raise children who would be better human beings than their parents, as their parents were compared to their own parents. I know I should be living in the moment and enjoying seeing my kids turn into young adults, and I do, but there is part of my brain that just can’t let go of the thought of all that I will be missing.

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The Boxer.

Now before you all overreact, no, I haven’t taken up the “Art” of pugilism. I’m a lover, not a fighter as you all well know, although to look at my face you might think otherwise. However, I have just completed a bout against a much larger opponent and feel as if I’ve been kicked by a large and especially bad tempered horse. Having heard that my new place will be ready soon, I began the process of packing up and moving my possessions into storage in anticipation , there being a month between moves. This proved to be a bigger task than anticipated as I was under the impression that I’d divested myself of quite a lot of extraneous items already. Not so.

In the end it required the purchase of 30 banker boxes to pack up the majority of my stuff – largely books, which should come as no surprise to anyone, but it was not as easy as that – my car is not designed for haulage and packing it full of boxes, clothes and furniture is a task worthy of a Tetris world champion. Add to this the fact that I was making three trips a day in 80 plus degree weather and you can imagine just what a slog it was, with most days ending with your humble writer drenched in sweat and with aching limbs.

The storage unit seemed large enough at first, and I made the most of the space, stacking boxes as tightly and as high as possible, but it soon became clear that it was not going to be enough – even a pint pot can’t hold more than a pint, and I had somehow managed to cram in a quart. Even the thankless task of reorganising wasn’t sufficient, although it did buy me quite a bit of extra space, but not enough to avoid the need to rent an additional smaller space to take the overflow.

This wasn’t a solo task, however. I had the kids with me and they were more than willing to help me as I recovered the television in order to donate it to Goodwill by helping to move some of the furniture out of the way as I moved the heavier items in order to clear a path. They are as excited about the move as I am, so it took little encouragement to get them to help me.

I did this on a day I had been waiting for for some time as our trip coincided with the delivery of a very, very nice piece of furniture restored to full glory by a schoolfriend – a Scandinavian Mid-Century Modern cabinet that will grace the living room of my new home and provide a worthy resting place for my rather impressive collection of single malts.

I mentioned furniture earlier, and this needs some elaboration. The only bed I was able to move was my sons’ as it disassembles very easily and is small enough that the mattress fits (only just) into my car with only a modicum of intense discomfort for the driver, although the frame had to be lashed to the roof using home made duct tape string and a firm grip on one of the slats through the sun roof whilst driving. For the bigger pieces I rented a truck and after an appeal for help was assisted by two friends who evidently had nothing better to do on a Saturday morning. Even with three people it took two trips and a great deal of effort to move my bedroom set, futon and other assorted items, although I’m pretty sure the beer and pizza afterwards went some way to restoring us to something close to normality.

I’m thankful at least that I didn’t have to move my daughters’ bed. I had  been given a captains’ bed which took quite some effort to move, and as the bedroom in my new place is too small for both kids’ beds I made the decision to give it away. It was snapped up in no time, and whilst this was a load off my mind I had some trepidation over how my daughter would react as she loved the bed, especially the “Secret compartment” in the base. However, she took the news with equanimity and nary a complaint as I explained that as only one of them would be using the kids’ bedroom at a time, there really wasn’t much point in trying to cram two beds into such a small  space.

“So where are you now?”, I hear you ask. With the bare minimum of clothing and a few books I am spending a month living with my sweetie until my new place is ready for occupation. This presents a whole new situation but more of that anon. It feels weird to have one’s whole life packed up and stacked in a storage unit (and a friends’ garage). Is that all we are, merely a collection of appliances,furniture and personal possessions? It makes me wonder what some future archaeologist would make of such a find and what sort of picture of 21st Century life they would compile from such an assemblage of items. Would anyone care? I hate to go all Marcus Aurelius on you, but it does make me wonder about how much of ourselves we invest in our property and how much it reflects who we are, or who we think we are.  Perhaps some 35th Century Howard Carter would break the seal on my unit and in an awed voice whisper ” Ahh, a heavy drinking military historian with a taste for late 20th Century music and a wardrobe to match” (  See “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”).

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Happy Birthday

I celebrated a birthday recently. Nothing unusual in that you may say, but it is the first one I’ve celebrated in a decade. My daughter was born on my 41st birthday, and as you can imagine, one can’t compete with that, so whilst we all had much fun decorating the garden in pink and purple, setting up Princess Pavilions, organising craft activities, inflating bouncy castles and balloons, my birthday was acknowledged begrudgingly, if at all by my Ex mentioning it in passing as the birthday party morphed into a late evening barbeque with our friends.

Lest you all reach for the world’s smallest violin, I’m not invoking victimhood. I love my daughter and will always put her first, but it’s nice to have some recognition of having survived yet another lap around Sol.

This year was different. I hit the big five-oh and my sweetie wanted to make sure that the event didn’t go unremarked. I drew up a list and she sent out emails and made all the arrangements whilst I remained in blissful ignorance ( “No change there” I hear you say) until the day.

This is where it got weird. I usually spend the day shifting tables, setting up and generally making sure everything is organised whilst my Ex worked her way down her list of tasks. “A woman’s work is never delegated” as Basil Fawlty once remarked, so it was no wonder that I felt more than a little guilt sitting in her kitchen while she busied herself with the final preparations, insisting that I relax. Seeing how much energy she was putting into the event made me realise just how much effort I had expended in the past and how much I was treated like a servant in my own home.

Of course the evening was a great success, with much drinking, eating and conversation, and I can’t begin to explain how nice it was to be able to sit down and just enjoy an entire afternoon without having to run inside to deal with some minor chore every ten minutes. The decorations were overwhelmingly red and white and my sweetie had even gone to the great extravagance of buying Liverpool Football Club paper plates, cups and hats for the occasion. The cake was an amazing rendition of the Liverpool crest, and I just couldn’t believe that she had gone to so much effort on my behalf.

Then of course, came the gifts which fell into two categories. The useful ones were incredibly on target and much appreciated. The gag gifts also had a lot of thought behind them, including the pack of replacement pencil leads (think about that one),and the place mat with my head stuck onto the bodies of assorted dinosaurs. I was truly humbled by the amount of effort and thought that had gone into each gift. My friends are a truly wonderful bunch, and to be the centre of their attention humbled me in a way that I have rarely experienced.

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