Renting – What to Expect in the UK (Part 6)

written 20/2/14

From how random strangers react to any potential sign of someone or something possibly causing an inconvenience (see: inevitably step in and advise against the actions), the impression I get is that patience is not something that is dispensed without a certain amount of cat-herding in the UK.

This may also go a long way towards explaining why people also tend to be overly emphatic in their apologies when they cause delays – from the random road obstruction to the person at the register who is having a technology failure – it is as though they honestly expect someone to leap over whatever obstacle there is between them and start a hockey game.

So how did moving day start? For the most part, uneventful; we arrived at the car rental place on time, did the song and dance with the person at the desk, including the bit where he apologised and excused the delay in the process under the grounds that the system sometimes locks out for whatever reason.

No matter. Card details shared, one declined – more excuses and apologies – the second accepted and then it was a short jaunt out to the parking lot to see the vehicle they were letting us drive. While the person helping us talked my husband through every scratch and dent already on the short-wheel van as well as showing him how to operate the thing, I made a video recording to document said markings.

Amusingly, when I was caught with my phone out, the fellow graciously granted me permission to take pictures. Being the snotty american that I am, I quipped back: “I’m recording.” It wasn’t a question; I didn’t need approval to do it and no questions were asked about it.

Much like the apartment, it was an intentional move on my part; I wanted to make it very obvious that we weren’t going to have any of the nonsense that you hear about – you know, where people will rent a car, use it for a day, return it an then have to argue and bicker and lose when the company tells them that they damaged it somehow. Scratch a damage deposit, much tears are had… blah blah – didn’t happen to us, I assure you. We can assume this is because the company was reputable, though the video recording as our insurance against the potential never could hurt the situation.

The van was picked up at 10AM, we were back at the old place and were loaded up by 11:30AM, having to contend with drivers who believe that trucks can stop on dimes. In defence of my husband, he handled it better than I did – I swore and gesticulated at the fool. Aside from the near brush with fate, we made it to the new apartment – without anymore adventures – just before noon, and there we were introduced to a new neighbour…

Who came out of her house across the street from where we were parked, to tell us, “That’s not a parking space; you can park there for now, but you’re blocking my driveway.”

Your what hurts? I’m sorry; there is at least a seven-foot gap between us and the entrance to your driveway – if someone can’t turn in from that, I don’t know what to do with them. Of course, my obnoxious monologue was left unsaid and I struck up an otherwise friendly conversation with the person after ensuring them that we wouldn’t be there more than an hour tops and that they could chillax. It was not the culturally accepted response, of course – I was supposed to apologize emphatically and park somewhere else post-haste – so soothing over rough edges took longer than was probably necessary.

I will say this however; even if you don’t like how someone delivered the message the fastest turn around in temperament can be achieved by saying: “thank you for letting us/me know,” even if it’s a lie, add, “that’s very kind/thoughtful of you.” Because, honestly, that’s what I ended up doing and it was as though a strange metamorphosis came upon the person and they suddenly were all sunshine and daisies. I had to fight the urge to do what my old pet husky does when something confuses her; that is it say I wanted to twist my head on my neck and give the “da-fuq?” look.

Well okay then, problem solved; we off loaded quickly. My husband returned the van and I was left to play Klotski with all of our things so that I could reassemble the bed frame. The stinker (see: darling husband) got back just as I was finishing up. >_> I’m on to you, buster.

Despite having contacted the utility companies ahead of time, we knew that we were in for a cold first night. Why? Because our heater and hot water are both optimised to work with Economy 7 – in short, they weren’t going to kick in and start working until sometime after midnight. I didn’t tell my husband until morning, because I was 90% sure it would just make him feel worse, but I could see his breath at times when he spoke as the night wore on.

I’ve set up two alarms for myself so that I can make the most of the tariff we’re on. One to alert me at midnight so that I can flip a switch on an outlet to turn on the power-strip that acts as our “charging station” and another at 6AM to wake me up so that I can finish a load of laundry/kill the power-strip before the peak hours begin.

So far it’s worked out okay – if we can make any judgements based on one day – we ended up going to bed earlier than usual, only getting up to turn on the charging station, but that worked out in our favour in the end as it helped make the earlier start survivable.

I am under the distinct impression that, at one point in time, someone used to smoke in this apartment – there was what appeared to be tar stains on the tiles in the bathroom shower and the grout is (at the time of this writing) still a ghastly shade of orange-yellow. Ew.

Much of the night before and this morning was dedicated to cleaning house, that, and learning how to turn on the shower.

Because no one tells you these things, they just kind of assume that you know what you’re doing when you step into a tile box with a square-box-and-pull-chain on the outside and no faucet handles inside it. Yep, I admit it, I spent way more time in my birthday suit in the shower than I should have, trying to figure out how to turn it on (I’ll give you a hint: I didn’t need to rub its side and talk sweetly to it).

So, to spare the rest of you the same shame, I’m giving you a visual aid:

This Electric shower is controlled by dials on the unit and via a pull-chain to turn it on and off.
This Electric shower is controlled by dials on the unit and via a pull-chain to turn it on and off.

On the box, best as I can figure for now, there are controls for the temperature and the rate in which it heats set water. I could twist and turn these things all day and they would never turn it on, however. The secret is the pull-chain. You’ll note that, on the small box on the ceiling there is a window that says “off” – once tugged, the window switches to “on” and (wait for it… there’s sometimes a delayed reaction) the shower springs to life. Hooray!

On the topic of things water-related: calcium deposits.

I can’t speak for the whole of the UK, but here the tap water is hard. I spent several hours, because I didn’t have vinegar (the most natural/best way to remove calcium deposits, thank you), CHIPPING as much of it off as possible from the faucets in both the kitchen and the bathroom. I still have the shower-head to deal with, but forget it [insert table-flip meme] I’m done.

Also, mould. Mould seems to be a common problem in a lot of houses here and, since our bathroom has no window and just a lonely wall-fan extractor to get the moisture out, we’re unlikely to be the exception to the rule. Just going off of the sealant around the sinks and shower, I’d say it’s already an issue that needs to be taken seriously. I’ve bleached the almighty life out of these suckers and they have seen little improvement so far, but I at least tried.

Between the tar/grease, calcium and mould… I’ve basically murdered a scrubber sponge. The laundry probably would already be dry, too, were it not for the fact that it decided it wanted to rain today. So, the first load that I’ve done in the new place has had to dry out on the laundry-horse in front of the heater; very slowly on account that the horse just isn’t big enough to handle a queen-sized duvet cover and 5 t-shirts.

Really, this is a learning experience for me; when it comes time to wash our sheets (the one mentioned earlier was a loaner so that we could more easily transport the mattress), England will just have to stop being England for a day so that I can put them out on the line outside…

That’s not too much to ask, is it? <_<

Edit 21/2/14

You would be surprised the things you take for granted that you actually do not need in your day-to-day life. Like, doorknobs, of all things.

The door to our apartment has no doorknob. Just a key lock that will lock you out if you let it shut behind you. Now, self-locking doors I can deal with, on account that I had some experience with one when I was still in the states. You get used to either being locked out, or your come up with ways to prevent it from happening – those are your choices.

But outer doors without a door handle? That’s uncharted territory. Let me just say this: the two together is a deadly duo.

I am yet to stop being amused by my husband asking me how things work or are done here in the UK – dude, seriously, you were born here, not me; shouldn’t that be my question? Apparently not, because it’s been asked to be about TV licenses, Council Tax, Pre-payment meters, Pre-payment cards/keys, Utility companies, Tariffs, how Economy 7 appliances work

So, if any transplant feels out of their depth by the day-to-day doings of life here, they can take comfort in knowing that the natives are just as clueless. A part of me is flattered, to be honest; that he expects me to know on account of I am just the type of person who would do the research on the topic to have an answer, but still, it is a little funny all the same. Even he admits it.

We’re currently in the process of trying to work out a liveable daily expense for utilities. Electric heating is not the cheapest option out there, and it takes real work to run Economy 7 so that the bills are in your favour.

Our biggest challenges so far have been in just figuring out what the best settings are for the appliances. During the day, unless it has a purpose for being on, we keep things unplugged (appliances on standby waste a ton of energy – FYI).

Adjusting the fridge to run in the “sweet spot” between 37-40F (2-4C) was another task that took a little bit of research, because – surprise surprise, the model fridge we have just has a number dial and there was no manual to go with it when we moved in. Shifting said refrigerator another inch away from the back wall should also help in discouraging the cooling coils from turning on quite as much. At some point, I’ll have to vacuum behind it, too, but that’s for another day.

So far we’re averaging a little under £2/day in energy costs. I honestly didn’t believe the Landlady at first when she said the water-heater and radiator unit are on special timers set to work with Economy 7. I had to look up the model numbers of each item just to be sure.

At this point, I’m also going to assume the landlady misspoke when she told us that it cost £35 a WEEK to run electricity in the place. I just can’t see how that’s possible without being obscenely heavy handed with energy usage. Though, as it stands, unless I manage to whittle it down some more (and this will likely be where those curtains I was thinking of putting up against the outer walls will come in) we’re still looking at a £60+ a month bill.

Okay, to be fair, that <£2/day is providing the heating and power/lighting to the apartment; but I still hold that it could be more efficient. We already have energy efficient bulbs in all of the lights. At the absolute minimum, we should be putting thermal curtains over the door leading out of the apartment and in the doorway leading into the kitchen so we’re just heating the living-bed-room for the most part. We could also stand to replace the curtains over the windows with ones that actually are fit for the job, though we’re lucky in the fact that our windows are double-glazed and on the newer side of things – meaning they don’t have half as many drafts as some other options.

If the radiator unit wasn’t mounted to the wall itself, I’d have tried putting reflective foil behind it – alas, that’s just not happening.

Also on the list of things to think about: the washing machine – my first experience with this contraption, I have to admit, it trolled me like a boss. I put it on “Coloured Fast Wash” thinking it would take less than an hour to do the job. Ha ha, Bob; how little did I know that when it said colour-fast, it meant dyed clothing that didn’t bleed all over. It took that Mother Hubbard TWO HOURS to do one load of laundry. I have since dug up the manual for the thing and learned about how it functions so hopefully future loads will not have the same problem. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

Not directly related to electricity, but still cost savings: I’m going to probably employ water displacement tools in the toilet tank, though it will have to be small as there isn’t much space in there to squeeze past the float ball – I have the distinct feeling that I’m flushing more money down the loo than I really should. It may not save much (a couple of litres at most) but it will add up. Also on the list is getting the hard-to-stop-dripping faucet on the bathroom sink fixed. There is also some potential savings to be had in decalcifying the power-shower head. Said head can’t be replaced due to how the system is setup, sadly. I should also invest in an old-school egg-timer so that I can be really anal-retentive and have my showers timed.

Edit 22/2/14

The landlady stopped by today to pick up some mail that arrived yesterday in her name. While she was there, I showed her the issue of the grout – to which she remarked at how nice the place looked, which generated all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings in yours truly because, darn it, I worked hard to polish the place up so it was nice that it was recognised – and she offered to cover the cost of materials if I managed to bleach it out. [insert challenge accepted meme] We agreed that the occasionally-dripping faucet would be watched and, if it worsens or any others start to have similar problems, we are to let her know so she can get someone out to take care of them all in one go.

I am happy to report that my newest load of laundry was washed according to plan, so hopefully, come the end of the day, the impact on our electricity usage will be minor (edit: 40p – which would be exactly 60p less than we had on the first attempt at laundry washing). At this point, I’m looking at doing a load of laundry every other day. Once I am caught up, however, I’ll be able to stretch that some. It is, of course, still contingent on the weather being good so that I can throw clothing out on the line for reasons already mentioned… to say nothing about getting the windows all steamy (hey, you, gutter mind – I saw where your brain went).

There appears to be a certain degree of mould on the edges of the windows; my rag comes up with black goop after I wipe them down during the times when it gets a bit muggy in the apartment. Thankfully there isn’t any signs of rot (yet), though I’m keeping a close eye on it. It’s a common problem with 100% humidity England; all that moisture goes somewhere and if it isn’t in the form of rain… well you get the idea.

Today, I took apart the extraction fan in the bathroom and gave it a good scrubbing. Like most things coated in tar, it started out being decidedly cream/yellow but is now unabashedly white. It’s kind of striking against the beige/cream walls.

I’m going to need to really prioritise our weekend-warrior projects. Some of it will take a certain amount of saving up to accomplish but some things matter more than others. Translation: I want curtains before I see a new rug or a dining room table (yes, even if it’s one of those super space-saving collapsible ones).

It has to be noted that we’re fortunate that our landlady is a fairly relaxed individual. So long as we aren’t punching holes in her walls, she’s more or less open to letting us do whatever we want – or so she has said; I still plan on verifying with her before I consider any project that we can’t take down and move with us to whatever our next place will be (when the time comes; renting should not be forever, of course). I’m still eying the old wine coloured carpet and, given how it better resembles a drowned rat tacked down at the corners, thinking an upgrade wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The comment about it looking like a wet rat tacked down on the corners might be an exaggeration.
The comment about it looking like a wet rat tacked down on the corners might be an exaggeration.

The hard part, I think, will be in convincing darling husband that we want to switch to something neutral. Initial attempts had him leaning towards the colour purple, and while I can understand the need for some punch in the décor, I’m thinking that going from blood red to Barney isn’t going to win us any favours – moreover, I’m hoping I can arm-twist him into getting coloured curtains for the doorways and windows as a compromise. You know, stuff we can take with us later on.

Okay, there is the alternative of getting a rug or two and dropping those down instead, but rugs are not the cheapest option and I’m nothing if I’m not a stingy, penny pinching, crabby-pants (the notable exception being the post where we had to go shopping for things we would need, but I digress…). We could always get the carpet remnant anyway and just not bother to have it tacked down (see: have it lay over the old carpet like a… oh, I donno… rug or something >_>).

Edit 23/2/14

For those following the Home Office’s appeal of the High Court ruling on the Immigration Requirements for Family Visas in the UK, I’ve recently learned that the actual days they (the Court) will be hearing the appeal are set to be the 3rd of March to the 5th of March. But that’s just when they hear it; they can’t plan a date for when they will make a decision, savvy. So beyond that, we’re still up in the air, not knowing what to expect or when to expect it.

In the meantime, BritCits and FreeMovement have been collecting and submitting their evidence to show how unfair the current rules are to people. Last I heard, some 500 or people have taken part and submitted documentation from their own individual cases as evidence. Us included, of course.

By the time this gets up onto the website (the 12th of March at the soonest), this will probably be all old news, so I feel like bringing it up now is something of a moot point.

Edit 25/2/14

My husband and I did the number crunching ages ago and found that it was cheaper to have a company called Riverford which is farming co-op that delivers organic food to a person’s door. Their main selling point are their vegetable boxes which, when someone breaks down the cost-per-item and compares it like-for-like in the stores, is cheaper than in-store organic produce and is even comparable to the budget brand produce.

The catch? With the boxes, you’re at the mercy of whatever is in season from their farms. Now, if you like cooking as I do, this isn’t a problem – in fact, it can be rather exciting (I know, I know, shut up…) waiting for the box to arrive so I can see what interesting ingredients I have to play with for the week.

Most of the boxes have the British staples (see: onions and potatoes) in most weeks. I can think of only one occasion where we didn’t get onions in a food-box last year, but it was perfectly find because we still had some left from the week prior. But I’m not exaggerating on the British staple thing; in my husband’s family at least, potatoes are the go-to starch/veg most nights. It was a rare thing when there weren’t potatoes on the plate come dinner time. As for onions, my FIL has more than happily proclaimed, boasted even, how he likes eating whole raw onions with a bit of cheese, but I digress…

We’ve been getting our produce through them for some time now, even before we got our own place. The only reason I bring it up now is because now I have free reign to run my kitchen (you see what I did there?) how I like it and that means blanching an freezing veggie scraps on the weekends.

At least a little bit; I have to keep the small freezer in our tiny fridge kind of full – not too-full, mind, because that defeats the purpose – so that it can run at peak efficiency. That same thought process works for refrigerators as well, which we’re slowly working on.

But I was entertained to say the least when our Riverford delivery person showed up today with the weekly veg-box and blinked at me as though in surprise.

“Where did you live before?” he asked, so I told him and he nodded in understanding, because he remembered us – apparently, the holiday card I gave him and his coworker made a lasting impression on his memory, because he mentioned it in the conversation.

Which brings up another interesting point: it isn’t expected, but during the winter holiday season it is not uncommon for people to give token gifts of appreciation of service. Kind of like saving up your tips and giving them to the person at the end of the year, if you want to look at it that way. Largely this is limited to the mail delivery person, but other labourer type positions may get it as well.

I remember when we got our furniture for the bedroom. I was visiting the UK and my husband – then my fiancé – had to work the day they were expected to deliver it all (the bed frame, mattress, dresser, desk and a wardrobe), but as I was there, I accepted the delivery in his place. Now, in my family – specifically my father – it was customary to tip delivery people. In my dad’s words: “because they work for a living,” which really was his roundabout way of saying that he recognised the physical, mental and even emotional demands that came with service jobs. I tipped the delivery men that day; though I had the forethought of telling them it was the “American way” to show gratitude.

“I wish this would catch on here,” one of the fellows told me, I recall, as they were on their way out the door once the job was complete.

Maybe what I’m getting at here is that, sometimes, it’s the small things like that that people will remember. I’d like to think that we will be the family that others will be happy to do business with, not because of the money necessarily, but because we show gratitude. When we are grateful to others, we give them dignity and, given how classist the UK can be, the impact of that is huge.

Edit 28/2/14

I’m at the home of my In-laws for a bit today, so I’ve been adding what I’ve got so far to an online draft of this post. We sent out a Subject Access Request (see: SAR) back before the move and yesterday we got a letter from the Data Protection Unit (DPU)  of the UK Visas and Immigration branch of the Home Office. It was dated the 21st of February and it goes along the lines that, once they’ve verified that I haven’t forged my own signature (AHEM, really?) they will be investigating our case with the intention to contact us within the next 40 days.

SAR Processing Letter dated 21-2-14
SAR Processing Letter dated 21-2-14

Now, it has to be noted that it doesn’t say BUSINESS days. All the same, I’ve marked out dates on my calendar for both 40 days from the date of the letter and 40 business days from… yeah, you get the idea. If I don’t hear from them after the 40 business days, I will have to contact them again and see what the dilly-o.

Because, of course, they do not have the resources to “deal with enquires regarding progress updates,” to quote the letter. Given that they received our request on the 10th of February and it’s taken them 11 days to write a letter to acknowledge that fact – to say nothing about the 4 more days it took just for them to mail said letter… I’m thinking there’s some truth in that statement. But, if they’re so swamped – and this is a question I routinely ask when it involves the Home Office – why aren’t they being provided with extra support/staff to meet the demand?

It’s times like these that I have to remind myself: the system isn’t broken, it functions exactly how the bureaucrats want it to function. Again, it is hoped that, by the time this is published, I will have more information, but that’s where we’re at so far.

Edit: 13/3/14

Internet at last! As I’m a day behind my plans to get this out, I’ll try to be quick to update with what I know: As far as the Home Office’s Appeal over the Income Requirements BritCits has the most extensive summary of what happened over the two days that was going on. To summarise the summary, while signs are good that the judges will not rule in favour of the Home Office and the bailiffs are of the opinion that we can expect an answer in a month or two instead, the Home Office is still probably going to keep appealing all the way up to the Supreme Courts.

What does this mean for people like me who are on hold (All 3,000+ of us, apparently)? Well, more limbo, most likely.

So what are we, my husband and I, doing? Just trying to get on with our lives. The UK 2013-14 Tax year is drawing to a close and, based off of what he’s earned so far, it looks like we will again be meeting the income requirements. It’s frustrating but we’re just trying to go and do as we can however we can; the only other option is to give up and I’m too American for that noise. 😛

~*~

In other news; it seems this year’s wet weather has taken its toll on our damp-proofing – we’re experiencing similar to what’s being shown in the video below.

)

Thankfully, it appears that we’ve caught it early on and our Landlady has been a major sport and has been on the ball with dealing with the issue thus far. I feel sorry for her, because it’s such an annoying problem to fix. To say nothing about time consuming/costly. She’s said several times now how glad she is for insurance and I don’t blame her for that.

In the meantime, we’re trying to keep things as dry inside the apartment as possible. By running the dehumidifier 24 hours a day and opening windows when we shower/cook, it’s keeping the humidity inside the flat at about 53% which only sounds high until I mention that the worst it has been in here was at 70% (Why, yes, I have very clear pores, why do you ask?) >_>

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