Original post: Thursday 29th September 2011
It was around the beginning of summer that our retirement plans began to come into sharper focus. For some time we had known that we intended to stop letting out our house in Cornwall, and indeed had informed our letting company so that they didn’t put it in their new brochure and start selling dates in 2012. But we were now on the home stretch with only six more lets confirmed and the final week still available. With every set of keys that came back, a weight lifted – another week gone by with no problems to sort out.
We had a date in mind for the start of work on our kitchen in Treforest (mid-September), but still some decisions to make about tiles, flooring, worktop, door and drawer fronts, handles, integrated dishwasher – quite a lot of decisions, really. There was no alternative but a quick sprint down to Cornwall for a few days. Wadebridge Kitchens gave us samples of worktop designs in a swatch no bigger than ten square centimetres and four examples of unit doors in different woods which we laid in various positions around the old kitchen, seeing how the light fell on them at different times of day and at night and we exercised our imaginations in extrapolating from these small areas to a whole kitchen, so that two days later we made a decision. We also called in on the Natural Tile & Stone company in Wadebridge and surveyed numerous tiles, before settling on one called ‘Pearla’ plus a number of decorative glass tiles from a artist/craftsman in Wales called Steve Robinson. Finally we went to Astons in Wadebridge about flooring, looking for a vinyl floor similar to the old one we were taking up. They didn’t have anything at all similar, so we took a brochure away. Later, I sent for samples from the manufacturer, but we didn’t decide on the floor until the last week before work started. We didn’t manage to decide on handles either, but took a brochure away. We found eight or ten we liked the look of from the pictures, but here again we could leave it until the last week before deciding.
Back in Woking, we blitzed the internet looking for dishwashers. We had decided on a Miele – expensive but good, based on our own experience – but couldn’t decide which one. The internet gives you lots of things, but I always find it a pain, flicking between half a dozen alternatives with a screen for each, and possibly two or three screens for all the information. But I did find a Miele Experience Centre (yes, that’s what they call it) in Abingdon, where you can make an appointment to see appliances and have them explained to you. They do not pressure you to buy, since they do not sell from the Centre. Possibly this is one of the reasons Miele is expensive.
Eventually, I managed to make an appointment for 3 pm on Friday 29th July. Ideally I’d have liked a slightly later time, but they had a staff meeting at 4, they said. This fitted nicely in with a plan to visit daughter Eleanor in nearby Oxford and deliver her birthday present only a day late. The Experience Centre was easy to find, just off the A34. We parked, went in and were greeted by someone who said “You must be my 3 o’clock appointment”. “If you are Zoe, that’s right,” I said. She showed us the toilets, which was a good thing to know, and took us through to a coffee lounge where we had a coffee and a cupcake, which was a pleasant way to start. Then we went to see the dishwashers and receive a detailed explanation of the features, and how they got better as the price increased, right up to the most expensive one which clears your dining table and individually cleans and polishes every item. Oh no, that’s a butler. But it does have automatic load recognition, an autoclose door and an interior light, among other things not possessed by the average Jeeves*. We decided that these were not worth the exorbitant price and went back down the range to something merely expensive. After making use of the toilets, we headed for Oxford.
We stopped at the Redbridge Park and Ride on the South of Oxford and took the bus into the centre, sitting on the front seats of the top deck to enjoy the view over walls and down into gardens, and getting off in Abingdon Road. We walked up to Modern Art Oxford, a gallery in Pembroke Street recommended by younger daughter Tris, to kill time before Ellie was due to arrive home. I’m not sure I ‘get’ a lot of modern art. Clothes airers covered by snug-fitting knitted cosies – I don’t see the point. There were also pieces constructed from venetian blinds, painted in bright primary colours. The smaller ones were a bit meh, but a large one hanging from the ceiling yielded interesting curves and shadows when you looked at one blind through another placed at an angle to it. The gallery shop had candlesticks assembled from pieces of copper pipe and T-joints painted red and blue, selling for prices that even plumbers never imagined.
We arrived at Ellie’s, to find her delayed at work, but son-in-law Joe let us in and fed us tea and biscuits. Ellie eventually arrived, bearing pizza, and we were joined by Tracey, Ellie’s friend from secondary school. That sounds unfortunate. Not her only friend, let me make clear, but one of her best friends. We handed over the birthday present, a black top hat. Eleanor does role-playing games and she has plans for a top hat. I tend not to pry further…
August also saw some unexpected expenditure. After 25 years, our water softener gave up the ghost. Last time I filled it with salt, I thought there was too much water in the container and emptied it. Then I saw water coming from the overflow pipe, dripping onto the grass and killing it with the salt content. The container was full of water again. I phoned Harvey Softeners in Woking to see if I could get it repaired. We don’t do that model any more, they said, we’ve had two more generations since then. We haven’t got the parts. What would a new one cost? If ordered from the service department, at a discount to the price from the sales department, just under £1000. Gulp! I spoke to Diana, but we had to go for it. Woking is a very hard water area and kettles get covered in scale in no time, visible evidence of what would be happening out of sight in the boiler, central heating pipes and washing machines. We’ve never regretted buying the first one, only a few months after moving into the house – the only thing Diana says she has bought from a cold-calling door-to-door sales-person.
Finally, I should mention the Woking Writers Circle August meeting, which each year varies the read-and-comment format of our regular third Thursday meetings and this year took the form of a dinner at the Red Lion in Horsell. This being the holiday season, several people were away, but those that remained had a good time, even being joined a little later by a couple of non-diners, who had only come for the beer. Well organised by Dermot, say I.
*Note to pedants: yes, I know Jeeves is a valet, not butler. But it sounded good.