Saturday, September 30, 2006

Chickening Out

Back in 1988 the UK property market went into hyperdrive. For those unfamiliar with the scenario, tax laws regarding mortgages were changing, and if a mortgage hadn't been arranged by August of that year, one would be at a disadvantage. This meant that everyone who didn't have a property was desperate to buy one, and everyone who had one, wanted a more expensive one. Anyway, the price of property rocketed, and there weren't enough properties to meet the demand, and new developments started springing up everywhere.

It was during this highly- charged period that the first letter arrived. It was from an Estate Agent (Realtor), to cut a long story short, he suggested that he held a meeting with all the property owners on our block, there were 16 of us, with a view to buying all our properties, at a premium, pulling them down, and putting up a large block of flats. They gave us the figure their client was prepared to pay. and told us to divide it among themselves. Our block was unusual in as much as the houses weren't uniform, they'd gone up at different times. There were big houses with fairly big gardens (ours), a big house with a big garden, medium houses with medium gardens, and smallish houses with big gardens. Sort it out amongst ourselves, you've got to be joking. Everybody agreed that the big house with the big garden should get the most, but apart from that, everybody thought their house, or at least their type of house, was entitled to more than the other types. Things were getting a little fraught, when Estate Agent 2's letter arrived. He too wanted to have a meeting with all of us. So we met with him. The developer he was representing was extremely well-known, reputable, and offering considerably more money than the first people. All things being equal, and all people being greedy, we unanimously agreed to go with number 2. They appeared altogether more serious. One of their directors came to meet with us, I remember noticing that he was wearing Gucci loafers, he put the deal to us, he mentioned the total figure, and then said that he would make individual offers to each householder, from that amount. He stood up, and we filed past him. It was like the receiving line at a wedding in reverse. We shook his hand, and he gave us each a white envelope with our names on it.

I would like you to imagine what went on afterwards. I'll give you a brief rundown of the occupants of the houses, there was one Chinese family, five British/Jewish, two Indian/Jewish, one Indian/Hindu, one Indian/Muslim and six indigenous British. We didn't have Bhutros Bhutros Galli, but, goodness, we needed him. We quickly formed splinter groups. Our alliances were diverse. They weren't split along ethnic lines, nor was the divide house-size related. All I know is that there were meetings going on in all of the houses, all of the time. At least that's how it seemed. During that time, the group our house was in actually remained constant. There was the Chairman and I (Large house fairly large garden), our best friends and near neighbours Colin and Lizzie (large house very large garden), elderly market traders Frank and Eva and retired solicitor Laurence (medium houses medium gardens). We considered ourselves to be the pragmatic ones, who were prepared to compromise to let the deal go through. The offer was so good, that we agreed amongst ourselves that if the money was divided equally between all houses, it would still be a fantastic offer. The others weren't so agreeable. People started arguing in the street. One hot summers day, I had the pleasure of seeing two Jewish men in their late sixties pushing and swearing at each other outside my house. It was a time of extreme tension. It seemed to me nobody slept for weeks. People would be knocking on peoples doors at all hours of the day and night. Plans were hatched and discarded, suggestions were made and rejected. Frankly it was hell.

And then, one Saturday morning, while the plotting went on around me, I opened the front door. I have always been an early riser, and before the supermarkets opened 24 hours a day (and obviously, before the chair), I liked to be at the supermarket when it opened at 8 am. Anyway, I opened the front door, and there, on the doormat, were a pair of crossed chicken feet. This both surprised and baffled me. Now I must confess that I have always been a bit squeamish about chicken feet when they were not actually attached to a living chicken. My grandmother always included them in her chicken soup. and I hated to see them bobbing away in the pan next to the kneidlach (matzo balls) and carrots. So when I saw them outside my house, I was, frankly, disgusted. I woke up the Chairman, and dragged him to the door to inspect them. He was also baffled (actually, he spent a lot of time being baffled, apparently it's a Newtonian trait), and phoned Colin. Colin came up the road, and we all stood and looked at the feet. 'Isn't this some sort of Jewish warning?', said Colin. He and the Chairman looked at me expectantly. I was the Jewish one, but I didn't know. I had always lived in North West London, not in the East End or the Shteitl in Poland. These things were as alien to me as to them. So I consulted the oracle, or Mum, as I called her. She cast her mind back to her childhood, and decided that Colin might be right.

We sat and drank coffee, and pondered (Tesco would have to wait). Who could it be? The obvious culprit was the Estate Agent who was (a) fed up with the time we were taking to arrive at a solution and (b) Jewish. As I was a bit of a mover and shaker in the deal, being the only person who was talking to everyone all the time, he obviously thought it was time to give the protaganists a proverbial kick in the rear. Then the Chairman and Colin went to have a further look on the front step, and discovered that that the chicken feet had been wrapped in an old utility bill from a flat a couple of streets away.

They decided to investigate.

I want you to imagine two broad, youngish men over six feet tall, with beards and sunglasses. Off they went to the block of flats a couple of streets away, where they rifled through the communal rubbish bins for signs of chicken innards or carcases. Now this was a bit of a no-brainer, for this was a very Jewish block, on a Saturday morning, where most people had eaten chicken the night before.

So they knocked on the door of the flat where the utility bill had been sent.

At this point I would like to remind you that we were all demented.

A small Jewish woman looked through the peephole. She could see two large men with beards and sunglasses. She didn't open the door. 'Yes?' she said 'Can I help you?'. ' We're investigating an incident of intimidation by chicken feet' said Colin. 'Are you the police' asked the small Jewish woman. 'No' said Colin. 'Well then' she said, 'Who are you?' they looked at each other, got out their Visa cards, and solemnly passed them under the door.

Three weeks later, the property market nose-dived, and the deal fell through.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Occupational Hazard

I really have no intention of turning this into a medical- related blog, but I have been concerned with medical matters over the past couple of weeks.

Now that I am getting active treatment for my condition, it's all systems go on the medical front. There's physiotherapy, exercise, minor weight training, regular visits to the Consultant, and of course the Special Compression Stockings made to measure somewhere in Germany. Added to all of this, may I introduce, Occupational Therapy.

It's a strange thing. I have struggled, and Katy has struggled with me (with mini accompanying struggles from Little Brother), virtually unaided by any official medical agency, apart of course, for my heroic GP, who has indeed been a brick, and almost as demented as the rest of us, for 3 years. Now that there is an extremely small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, all this help has miraculously appeared.

This week brought a visit from the Occupational Therapist.

I had already had a telephone interview with the Duty OT last week, where I had supplied all my personal and medical details, so that there would be no forms to fill in when she arrived, she would just make an assessment as to what the Local Authority could do to help me around the house. So basically, I will now be getting help as I become more mobile, but when I was getting less mobile every day, there was no help.

But as usual, I digress. I had asked The Tezter and his LSW to be here at the same time as the OT, as I am not keen on turning my house into 'Holby City', and wanted someone else to hear her suggestions, and to discuss them after she'd left. Anyway, true to form, they arrived about 2 minutes before the OT, and I shunted them off with Little Brother into the dining rooom, so that I could initially have a brief private conversation with her. Little Brother, who has a mild Autistic Spectrum Disorder, really communicates with The Tezter despite the 35 years age difference, but their friendship is somewhat bizarre, and much of their communication consists of The Tezter lecturing Little Brother on the exploits of various SS Panzer Divisions in WW2, or them calling each other lewd names amongst much raucous giggling.

Well, I, and the extremely proper young lady from The Local Authority discussed my 'condition', while from the dining room, I could hear whispers of 'You're a ----', 'No, you're a ----', followed by muffled male laughter, and exasperated sighs from the LSW. Then I called The Tezter in while we discussed what could be done for me, a chairlift and a leglift (means tested) so that I could go to bed again, but not before April as the Local Authority has no money until then, or I could have them fitted now, at my own expense, and be re-imbursed in the next financial year, if I was entitled to a grant. And that was that.

Or rather, it wasn't. Having been with me for the best part of an hour, she said that there were a couple of things she needed to know, and then she proceeded to ask me all the questions I'd answered previously over the phone, And then some. I put my hands above my head, I wiggled my toes, I answered questions about my previous illnesses (none), stays in hospital (childbirth), incontinence (no), and washing ability (Look at me. I'm clean!). Then she asked me if I knew my date of birth, the same one I'd given her 5 minutes previously, and who the Prime Minister is.

I turned my head extremely slowly, and fixed her with what best may be described as an icy stare. She stood up 'Well, that'll be all thank you Mrs. Newton.'


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Non ER

Lists are extremely popular these days. We have lists of the best performing schools and hospitals, least/most expensive towns to buy a house in the UK, smallest/largest immigrant populations in the UK, best/worst rubbish collection. Frankly, the list of lists seems endless.

A list that has not yet been compiled, probably because it's a minority interest, is a list of The Best Public Places to Get a Large Wheelchair. Here is my list:

1) JFK Airport, NY, NY
2) London Heathrow Airport
3) London Stanstead Airport

Here is my list of The Worst Public Places to Get a Large Wheelchair:

A Certain World Famous Teaching Hospital In North West London

Let me digress. I have a medical condition called Lymphodoema. for me, this means that my knees are extremely swollen, and I can't walk very far. this also means that, together, my knees are bigger than my body. So, although my bottom fits comfortably into a standard wheel chair, my legs are over the wheels, and the chair cannot move. I am receiving excellent medical attention at a Certain World Famous Teaching Hospital In North West London, and I have to attend not only my Consultant's (all bow down and worship him. He is not only clever and charming, but also gorgeous) clinic, but also Physiotherapy. Now, Katy usually takes me to my Consultant's appointments, as they are only about once every six weeks, but I have to attend Physio rather more often. As Katy has a Very Important Job, and is often Very Busy Indeed, alternative arrangements have to be made.

The CWFTHinNWL has a service where ambulances, with attendants, more like coaches actually, who will collect raddled old cripples like myself from their homes, wheel them to the vehicle in a wheelchair, deposit them at the appropriate clinic, collect them after their appointments, and drop them home again afterwards. It was decided that that was the road which I would travel. Arrangements were made, and a note was placed on my file to tell transport that I needed the large wheelchair. We all knew it existed, because I was sitting in it in the CWFTHinNWL as the arrangements were being made. It was also suggested that I telephone Transport the day previous to the appointment to remind them about the chair. Which I did. I was assured that they knew everything, and that I was to be ready at 11.30am.

Do you remember the story of the Three Little Pigs, and how they got up earlier and earlier to beat the Big Bad Wolf? This was obviously the premis on which the Transport service works, for they arrived at 9.30am. Anyway, they agreed to wait while I got ready, a long and tedious process, but eventually, ready I was, and the smiling attendant came in with THE STANDARD WHEELCHAIR. Of course, this was no good to woman nor beast, so he phoned his Despatcher, and I phoned my Physiotherapist, who changed the appointment for another day, and I put my feet back up, and though a little put out, thought no more of it.

The next day the Physiotherapist telephoned me. Transport had told her that the CWFTHinNWL didn't have a large wheelchair. This was ridiculous for 2 reasons, firstly the hospital sees people my size and larger all the time, I have seen them there. I have also seen some of them in wheelchairs. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, I have, myself, sat, and been seen sitting, in the large wheelchair. More to-ing and fro-ing continued, until eventually Transport came up with this solution. It went like this, 'If we can find the large wheelchair, we will put it on an ambulance, but we can't guarantee that the ambulance that goes to the Chairwoman's house, will be the one with the large wheelchair on it'.

I have made alternative arrangements. My friend's husband comes here early in the morning,
he then switches to my car, drives me and my mobility scooter to the CWFTHinNWL, I then switch from car to scooter and zoom (!!) off to my appointment with a cheery wave, and at lunchtime he collects me and we reverse the procedure. It may be a little clumsy, but it works.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The North West London Chainsaw Massacre

Most of the time The Tezter could pass as almost normal. There are his little eccentricities, the way he always wears his t-shirts inside out, the way he stands with his hands turned back to front, the fact that he always paints the frames of his glasses with blackboard paint, and his obsession with the Waffen SS. Little things that just hint that what you see isn't exactly what you're going to get.

There are, however, other 'special' times, for The Tezter is bi-polar, not a phrase he likes. He prefers the older 'manic depressive', as indeed he should, because when The Tezter is 'up', manic hardly starts to describe his personality. Apart from the drinking and ranting, there's the cleaning and bathing, and of course the wearing of the Special Clothes. When he's being manic, The Tezter dresses in black. Black trousers, black shirt, black waistcoat, his special religious medals (he's a product of a strict RC education and upbringing), and slung across his chest, like a Mexican bandit's cartridge belt, a dog's lead.

To go with the clothes, there is, of course, the bizarre behaviour. There are many stories I could tell, but this one, I think is my favourite. The Tezter and his long suffering wife, henceforth known as The LSW live in area that has residents' parking. They have such a permit (£90 per annum and cheap at twice the price), which has to be regulalrly renewed. One time, the renewal time came during one of his episodes, and they forgot to renew the permit. Well, we all know what Parking Attendants are like, and this one was waiting outside Tezter Towers as the controlled hour arrived, and quick as a flash, stuck a ticket on his car. And when The LSW went to take the dog for a walk, there it was, waiting for her to discover it.

When she returned from the walk, to find him dressed in his Special Clothes, and washing everything in sight, she foolishly mentioned it to him. Now The Tezter does battle with authority at the best of times, but when he's having an episode, the battling takes on a status that could best be described as monumental. The Local Authority obviously had to be punished, and he was the man for the job. He went in search of his chainsaw. The LSW, obviously in fear that the NW London Chainsaw Massacre was about to take place phoned Katy for some legal advice. While she was advising her, she heard The LSW cry 'Oh no!!' followed by a distant buzzing sound. 'What's happened?', shouted Katy. There was no reply. Then Katy heard the buzzing getting louder. 'Oh Jesus! You haven't!' she heard The LSW exclaim. The buzzing sound had increased.

The Tezter was in the house. In the right hand he held the still whirring chainsaw, and in the left, sawn off at ground level, the 'Residents Only' parking sign.