Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tenants from hell

Updates on and pictures of my kitchen sink will come when I get back home tomorrow. I have heard that we’ve made real progress, but haven’t seen it as I have been down in Seaford with my Grandma. Unfortunately, this is not a regular social call – we've got some very tricky business in Eastbourne, nearby.

I haven't blogged about this before because I didn't want to grumble, but now this is so all-consuming that I can't avoid it: in September, my husband and I bought an investment property in Eastbourne to rent out and ride the property wave into retirement. The beginning of our property empire. We hired a management agent and expected it to be smooth sailing.

However, the !£$%^&* management agent turned out to be very bad at choosing stable tenants and handling maintenance issues – basically, very bad at his job. We finally extricated ourselves from his contract, but have not yet been as successful with the tenants he installed.

These !£$%^&* tenants have not paid a penny of rent since April. They have not paid any money on time since February. After giving them every chance to pull themselves together, we followed all the legal steps and served the relevant notices to evict them. Now they have refused to leave.

You know that worst case scenario when you buy-to-let? Well, that's just about where we are.

And I'm SO MAD.

On the upside, I get to fill out tons of paperwork and negotiate with the Eastbourne County Court in trying to get a court ordered eviction. I also get to have argumentative and belligerent phone calls from the tenant. What fun! Not sure if this counts as "trying to keep myself entertained" but I am guessing that it will turn out to be a particularly British experience. Stay tuned for a very grumpy Sara.

I hope the new sink will cheer me up.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wash Out

My Sunday did not go as well as I hoped it would. As I said in my last blog, Sunday was supposed to be my first live cricket match. But... as occasionally happens in England... it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained.

So we didn't go.

We ended up watching Shrek 3 at the cinema, which didn't really make up for the disappointment of missing the men in white. I felt most sorry for my husband's middle brother who drove about two hours to come and see the cricket. He could have stayed home and watched the movie with significantly less effort.

We put up a good show for a couple of oldies though. We were out partying until well past 11pm on a school night. (Oooh...) We were drinking shots like proper college kids, and everything! Please, don't tell my mom.

My first English cricket day out will have to wait -- and so will my sink! Those of you at the edge of your seats waiting for more pics of our kitchen construction will have to wait until Thursday to see any progress. My construction crew is not available on Tuesday, so it will be at least Thursday before I can wash any dishes.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

57% Complete

Due to the !£$%^&* leaving great big holes in our floor, we haven't finished our kitchen reconstruction, despite a long day of hard work. Rebuilding the floor took a lot of time.

We took most of the morning to cut down the old cabinet fronts to use as floorboards...

and then cut new laminate flooring to size to go on top.

I use the term "we" loosely. I sat in the bedroom and did a lot of very important work.

Next, we had to build the base units to figure out exactly where the sink was going to sit and where the pipe holes would need to be in the cabinets. (I did actually help at this point, as I am the Flatpack Queen.)

Then, we had to figure out the plumbing. The new layout has the washing machine on the opposite side of the sink, and the sink is shifting about two feet to the left. After scientific calculations and elaborate diagrams, we had a plan:

The plan worked! The only hitch was, it was about 9pm when it was finished. And then we discovered a rather annoying little hitch: IKEA only half-cut out the sink hole in the countertop that we paid £25 for them to cut out. I can't imagine this is the standard procedure, and they will be receiving a phone call from an inquisitive ME tomorrow morning.

The DIY segment of our show will be back on Tuesday. In the meantime… tomorrow is my first cricket match!

Friday, June 22, 2007

What Lies Beneath... our cabinets

The final stage of kitchen destruction has begun! For the past four hours, my father-in-law and husband have been demolishing the final piece of the kitchen – the part where the sink is. Cue dramatic music.

The first thing we discovered in taking away the cupboards where our fridge will soon be is that the !£$%^&* who put together this kitchen didn't bother to sensibly bury the wiring in the wall behind the cabinets. No trunking. No fixture whatsoever. Just loose dangling wires.

You may have also noticed the hole in the floorboards in the photo above. We can thank the !£$%^&* for that as well. They seem to have taken it up to let one of those wayward wires stretch across under the kitchen floor. But that little gap is nothing compared to what we found directly underneath the kitchen sink.

It's no longer a mystery why we had little furry visitors a few months ago. Blech. But you may be pleased to learn that my ingenious construction crew are using the dismantled wood cabinet fronts to form new floorboards to fill the gap. Recycling! Hoorah!

I'm pleased to say that we've made fast work of it. We have already installed my beautiful new sink. Here it is...


Stay tuned for more progress tomorrow.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Royal visit

On top of all our eating, we managed to squeeze in a trip to Windsor Castle on Saturday. It was only about ten minutes drive away from where we were and, conveniently, on the way home. Windsor Castle is, according to the audio guide, the oldest lived-in castle as Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II lives there most weekends. It's huge-mungous and rather beautiful.

In the next picture, you can just see the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain, peeking over the top of the tower. For those not in the know, this means that the Queen is not in residence.

When the Queen is actually there, her own Royal Standard is flown. So, imagine our delight when we witnessed a new flag being run up the mast. The Queen had arrived just in time to greet us personally. How lovely!

Unfortunately, we didn't see her or even her car. One of the chatty wardens told us that her entrance is well away from the tourist queues. No entry fee for her! By the way, I'm not on the phone in that picture. That is the audio guide pressed to my ear.

It was the day before a special service for the Order of the Garter, so St. George's Chapel was closed. And, as it's the summer, the Queen's State Apartments were closed as well. However, we were able to wander around the grounds and gawk at the amazing Queen Mary's doll house.

While we were waiting in line, Neil and I had a discussing about the sign that read: "Queen Mary's Doll's House". As you all know, this implies that there is only one doll to whom the house belongs, but the number of rooms (man servants, maids, nurseries, Queen's rooms, King's rooms…) implies that there are many dolls. If you've clicked on the link above, you see that the website uses "dolls' house" which implies the suspected many dolls. I prefer to use "Queen Mary's doll house" as there aren't actually any dolls in it at all, and it's really Queen Mary's house made for dolls. That is: the house belongs to Queen Mary, rather than the dolls. Fascinating discussion, I'm sure. The security guard was looking bemused, but it seemed important at the time.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the dimly lit room where the doll house is kept, but it was quite a spectacle. There was so much to look at. Highlights include: the library stocked with readable books, the miniature cars in the basement, and the tiny replica Crown Jewels behind vault-like bars.

At the end of the visit, we learned that we could fill in a form, get it stamped and then get free access to Windsor for one full year. In a few months, we'll try to go back and see the things we missed, and say hello to our old friend, the Queen.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Our Second Edible Adventure

The Hind's Head, though the less-hyped of Heston Blumenthal's two restaurants, is just as exciting and wonderful as fancy-schmancy The Fat Duck.

It is a regular English pub with a pub food menu cooked as best as pub food can be cooked. You may have heard of the triple-cooked chips (translation for the American readers: thick steak fries, fried three times) which are every bit as yum as you might think. We had made a reservation and sat upstairs, rather than downstairs by the bar, the first come, first served area.

Our little table was right by an open window and we could watch all the people walk right by The Fat Duck. The picture in yesterday's entry of the street was actually our view from the table. Once, we watched a taxi driver point out the restaurant to a group who still missed the door. Lots and lots of uber-posh cars were baffled by the lack of signs or obvious parking: an Aston Martin, lots of Porsche and silly SUVs. There was also a wedding happening nearby, and we saw the most amazing hats!

On top of the wonderful atmosphere and prime people watching, I had the most delicious pea and ham soup, light and sweet with chunks of slightly salty, soft meat. I'm going to try to recreate it somehow here at home. Neil loved his oxtail and kidney pie (translation for the American readers: gross and ick) and wondered aloud if this food was even better than the Fat Duck meal. For dessert, we had "Eton mess" which, as an American, I needed a translation for. It is strawberries and cream made into a mess with chunks of meringue mixed in, and it was heavenly.

If someone asked which of the two restaurants I would pick to recommend, I would struggle to decide. But I wouldn't struggle on recommending the place we stayed. It was Red Roofs at Oldfield.

It's a 25 room Victorian house right on the river with a beautiful garden and a lovely breakfast room. Each bedroom is decorated in a different style, and we stayed in the Gold Room. Everything was gold. Everything.

This was our view:

The most impressive room was the lobby.

The husband and wife team owners were friendly and welcoming, and have done a wonderful job restoring and maintaining the building. It was the perfect place to stay to compliment our gastronomic experiences.

I think I'll save the Windsor visit for tomorrow's entry. That will keep me constant on my posting!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

An Edible Adventure

In 2005, I gave Neil an I.O.U. birthday present for a special meal at a restaurant that had long intrigued him. I busily set about trying to get a reservation at this place, but failed repeatedly. After various attempts, and perhaps a delay or two due to finances, I finally asked the polite but unyielding reservationist what I had to do to get a table. She was happy to tell me: be among the first to call on a Monday morning two months before I wanted to dine. With precision timing, two months of Mondays ago, I phoned up and secured a table at The Fat Duck. Hooray!

In any restaurant, Neil always picks the weirdest thing on the menu: spicy chicken feet, sheep testicles, anything guaranteed to repulse me. The Fat Duck is the ultimate in the unusual, and he was keen to try the tasting menu. If you don't already know, the restaurant is run by food scientist Heston Blumenthal who has established a philosophy about disrupting people's notions of food: what it's called, how it's prepared, what it looks like. The first line of the "Philosophy" section on his website is "No food is intrinsically disgusting…" Neil is a firm believer in this. I am not.

I am mocked in my family for being an extremely picky eater. I don't eat anything fishy, nothing with eyes, nothing that looks or sounds gross like blood pudding or foie gras. I don't really like meat and do tend to pick the same thing at a restaurant I've been to before. At first, I had planned to call myself a vegetarian who was allergic to fish. That would get me out of most of the disgusting things on the menu, but would also have me skipping most of the courses! Neil also didn't want to experience it all on his own, so I took a deep breath and decided that no matter what they put in front of me, I would eat.

Well, yesterday was the big day, and after a bit of a panic getting stuck in standstill traffic on the M25, we finally arrived in Bray near Maidenhead at the most innocuous looking restaurant. I didn't even spot it when we were driving by. The exterior and the interior was so understated; the focus was entirely on the food. Here's a picture. Can you guess which building is the three Michelin starred restaurant?

It's the light browny-beige one, on the left side, with the roof slightly sticking up.

The first course, of sixteen (!), was my favourite. A waitress brought over a contraption, poured in liquid nitrogen and then "cooked" a green tea and lime meringue, which we were instructed to eat in one bite. It collapsed in my mouth with a puff of refreshing and tasty gas. Yum.

My second favourite course was Neil's favourite. It was a three part experience: first I took a little strip (like those mint gel strips) that dissolved on my tongue to "begin the flavour of oak" according to the waiter. Then, he placed a wooden box on the table, filled with moss. Yup. Moss. He poured boiling water over the moss, which we guess was sitting on dry ice, and the vapour of the forest wafted up. Finally, came the actual eating of an oak moss and truffle toast, which was the most unique flavour of the evening.

Honourable mention goes to the hot and cold tea which was fascinatingly half hot and half cold. I didn't really enjoy the snails or the foie gras, but I ate them both with only the tiniest worry that they would come back up all over my Heston Blumenthal embroidered napkin.

Every new plate brought something I'd never had before. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Special thanks to Dad for picking out the wine before hand. I would have failed miserably had I been presented with that huge wine list without preparation. And the first choice wasn't there, so that back up selection was needed. We had the V.D.P des CĂ´teaux des FĂ©nouilledes, Le Soula, G. Gauby 2002 from Languedoc – very smooth.

That was Friday night! Tomorrow, I'll tell you about our Saturday: lunch at the Hind's Head – Heston Blumenthal's take on pub food – plus a trip to Windsor Castle, and the fabulous hotel we stayed in.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I can fly!

My mother-in-law gave hubby and me a voucher for an indoor skydiving experience, and we went yesterday. It was so much fun!

We had a long drive up to Bodyflight Bedford, but it was worth it. After a bit of instructional videos and safety demonstrations, we were ushered into a tube three stories off the ground, where a huge fan (or system of fans?) was forcing air through at more than 100MPH. Wahoo!

Neil and I each got two individual flying sessions of 1 minute 15 seconds each. As you'll see in this little highlights video, I was slightly more successful than my lovely husband. Grin.

Before our session, we got to see some real experts in the tunnel. There was a group doing formations and one guy did a backwards flip out of the very small exit door from about ten feet in the air.

If you're interested in how the wind tunnel works, a different company's website has a cool explanation.

P.S. Someday, I will skydive for real.

Friday, June 01, 2007


I love the internet. You can do so much! With a little help from strangers, you can reach out to your friends.

You may have noticed in the column on the right that I’ve added a little box. With generous free video tutorial from FreeVlog I have managed to create a feature where you can sign up to receive an email each time I post a blog. That way, you'll never miss a moment of my exciting blog!

Just enter your email in the little box, and a friendly service called FeedBurner will send you an email for each new blog I post. That might be easier than having to check the site all the time. After you put in your email address, a pop up window will appear asking you to copy in letters from a picture. Then, you're on the list!

They promise (and I promise to make them enforce their promise) never use your emails for anything other than sending updates about this blog.

So whaddya say… wanna sign up for sMOOchalicious by email?