Avoiding Hallowe’en

I have no interest in Hallowe’en . It wasn’t a thing when I was a kid, and has only become a thing since retailers here realised they too could make money off a holiday just like their US counterparts do.

I refuse to buy candy in case kids come knocking, because if they don’t come I’m stuck with candy that I have no interest in eating. This has happened often enough in the past for me to now refuse to play ball.

I am a curmudgeon. I am at peace with it.

Actually I forgot about it this year, which was a mistake. I didn’t close the curtains and was lying on my couch watching tv when I heard footsteps on the porch and a loud banging at the door. Unfortunately for me, you can see into my living room from the door, so I could see the kids out there in their costumes, and eventually they would see me.

So I did what any self-respecting curmudgeonly adult who hates Hallowe’en and has been caught out on the night at home with no candy would do: I pretended to be asleep.

When those kids grow up they’ll realise I was faking it. No one could sleep through the telly blaring away and their very loud and persistent knocking on the door.

Eventually they went away. I am certain they will have acquired enough candy from other sources that my non participation will have had zero effect on their evening’s happiness.

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Bothering the doctor

I’ve been watching a rather hilarious show, Very British Problems. Most of it is about avoiding people in a variety of situations.

One comedian had a great definition of her best friends: the ones who cancel on her. She maintains this is perfect because they keep in touch and intend to see one another but cancel so they don’t actually have to see each other.

Clearly I have a LOT of British DNA in me.

Another example: “I don’t like going to the doctor’s because I feel like I’m annoying them”. Ha! That’s me to a ‘T’.

I did go to the doctor on Friday though. I went because my taste buds had been seriously messed up after using a new toothpaste and the taste was taking a long time to come back. There’s little worse than chocolate that tastes like soap.

I decided to walk there and halfway I had to sit down on the ground because I felt like I was going to collapse. By the time I got to the surgery I was sweating, breathless and feeling dreadful.

That spun out into tests, and that was my day gone. The tests showed nothing much, which is good (not serious) and bad (no idea what’s going on). Conclusion: a virus. Thank god for viruses, they explain everything that doesn’t show up on a test.

It’s a few days later now and I’m still here, so all good. I don’t really know what’s going on but if I get worse I’ll be back to bother the doctor again.

Meanwhile, I’ve had an excuse (feeling poorly) to cancel any plans with friends this weekend.

Bad things come in threes

I fear I angered the insurance gods.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that, as part of my plan to save money for building on my estate, I would review my insurance cover and see if I was getting a good deal.

I called another company and got quotes for car, house and contents. He asked if I wanted the optional windscreen insurance ($69 extra). I said no. I’ve had a car for almost 30 years and never had to replace a windscreen. The house and contents insurance was a few hundred dollars cheaper and I made a note to call my insurance broker and switch the cover over.

About two days after I received the quote, we had a big storm blow through, the kind where the weather service puts out alerts about minimising travel and tying down the trampoline. It was very windy and very noisy and at some point during the night I was woken by a very loud bang. I didn’t get out of bed to investigate.

The neighbour is in the midst of replacing his windows, and for some days a rather large window frame with three sash windows (minus glass) has been propped against his front wall. It was this frame that had blown over onto the footpath and created the midnight bang.

My car was parked outside his house. The frame had missed it by about a centimetre. I left the frame where it was, checked over my car, it was unscathed so I went off to work. I returned to find the window frame restored to its previous position against the wall.

A day later I went to drive it and discovered that the side of the car was scratched, and the windscreen had a long crack in it. I was very annoyed about the scratches as no one had left a note but it was clear they’d done it when lifting up the frame. The crack could have been done by anything. So I called my broker, got the okay on the windscreen replacement and took the car in.

Two days later I came downstairs to find a pool of water on the kitchen floor and more dripping from one of the recessed light in the ceiling. There is nothing worse than finding a leak inside because it’s such a Pandora’s box: you never know what horrors will be revealed as you open things up to find where it’s coming from.

Not having a regular plumber I called my builder instead, who, god bless him, came over within the hour, recommended a good plumber (who miraculously appeared about 30 mins later) and between the two of them they traced the water back to its source – mercifully not the toilet as originally feared but a cold water inlet pipe to the handbasin.

I now have a series of holes in walls tracing what looks like the destructive path of a giant rat in search of the fountain of youth. To mix metaphors. The siding is off the house to let it all dry out (luckily no rot: the water can’t have been there for long) and we’ve had four days of nice weather.

I called my insurance, the wall repairs etc are covered so it’s just a question of whether it’s more than the excess.

What did I take from all this? Three life lessons:

  1. A tradie who you trust and can call on in an emergency is worth his or her weight in gold particularly when you live on your own and have no one to turn to in moments of crisis
  2. Bad things do come in threes – I’m counting the windscreen, the scratches and the flood
  3. Insurance is not to be messed with

I have abandoned my attempt to save money on my insurance. I have good cover, I pay good money for premiums, and I’ve never made a claim before this past week. But I’ve also stared into the abyss of what can happen after a major catastrophe like the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, so I know the value of a good policy.

And I can take a hint from the universe.

Am I losing my marbles?

I lost one of my good kitchen knives the other day. It's about a 25cm long chef's knife so we're not talking small paring knife size: fairly hard to lose.

At first I thought my Monday guest might have used it and put it away in a drawer instead of in the knife block. I searched every drawer: no sign.

I checked the dishwasher in case it was there or had fallen through the racks. No sign.

In desperation I decided to systematically go through every drawer and cupboard in the kitchen. Including the trash, which is where I found it.

I am completely baffled by how it got there. I have no memory of putting it there, and can't think how I could have accidentally swept it up along with vegetable scraps without noticing and dumped it in there.

Look, I realise this is a completely trivial event in the scheme of things. I didn't even have to buy a new knife. But what really bothers me about it is that I have no memory of doing this.

Other worrying things in the past few weeks: I left the oven on for hours after removing the baking; and I left a gas burner on for about 45mins after taking the pan off it.

This is the stuff of old age. It's my nightmare of becoming That (Old) Person who does weird random stuff, hiding keys in the fridge and getting paranoid that people are breaking into my house and stealing my socks just because I can't find them.

And of course, fear of Alzheimer's.

Realistically what I think happened was that I was talking to my Monday guest and absent mindedly tossed it away without paying any attention to what I was doing. At least I hope that's what it was.

It's more proof that I just cannot talk and cook, or do any two things at once. I'm thinking I might just need to pay attention to what I'm doing. The stove and oven events were the same problem, thinking about something else altogether and not paying attention to what I was doing.

More evidence that mindfulness matters. If only to stop me from burning down the house.

A mid winter trip 

I booked in a few days’ leave to travel with a friend visiting from Australia. It’s not the time of year that I’d pick for a trip but she announced she was coming and that was that. 

Naturally, visiting my estate was on the list of places to go. (I’m rather pretentiously referring to it these days as “my estate”, mainly because I can and it makes me laugh to say it). It’s a four hour drive so I thought we could go a bit further over the next few days, visit a few tourist spots and drive home the scenic route. 

All of which seemed like a not unreasonable plan, except that I didn’t actually want to go on holiday at this time of year, I had to do all the driving and all the bookings and planning, and I went down with the flu the week before. She used to live here, so it wasn’t as if it was a once in a lifetime trip either. 

I knew what I was in for on this trip, which meant I could mentally prepare for 5 days of company. I knew I’d be doing the listening: knowing I wasn’t going to be listened to meant I didn’t expect the conversation to go two ways. I mentally noted one day that during a 2.5h stretch of uninterrupted driving, I made one substantive contribution to the conversation, which wasn’t followed up on, and the rest was all her. I wasn’t passive: I was expected to, and did, ask questions, probe complicated situations and react appropriately to scandals and outrages. I didnt tune out. But it was tiring and my resentment did build.  

It wasn’t until I’d dropped her at another friend’s house for the remainder of her stay, that it suddenly dawned on me I’d volunteered for this. I was under absolutely no obligation to take time off just because she came to visit. I’d fallen into the social trap of doing what I thought was the socially expected thing rather than sticking to what I wanted, enjoyed, and was willing to give. I resented it more because I’d felt pushed into it than because of the near-complete lack of reciprocity (although that didn’t help). In short, I felt used. 

But it’s my own fault. There’s nothing malicious in what she did, she’s just self absorbed. I’m the one who first ignored what I needed and wanted. She just walked through a door I’d already opened. 

Getting old is not pretty

Last weekend I visited my aunt in hospital. She has been diagnosed with cancer and given weeks to live, so she is very focused on tying up loose ends. She’s very accepting of her lack of future, but is struggling mightily with financial concerns. 

Money has been a lifelong obsession: she has never, to my mind, been able to adjust her lifestyle to her means but I suspect that’s only the visible tip of a large iceberg of not understanding money and making decisions based on fear. 

Now she finds herself at the very end of her life requesting help getting a lawyer to sort out some property issues that have been a problem for 25 years. 

I’ve done what I can,  arranged a lawyer to visit her in hospital, and I’ve fielded several calls from her in a state about some aspect of money. I’m doing this mainly because I’m close to my cousin and this is a practical way to support her through all this stress. 

But I am gobsmacked that it has come down this close to the wire. I cannot understand how she could leave this to the end of her life to sort out when she’s had years to address it and get things in order. For her own peace of mind, I’d think she would have resolved all these issues years ago. I can’t believe she doesn’t even have a regular lawyer who knows her situation. 

It reinforces for me how important it is as a single person with no dependents to sort my own shit out. When there’s only you, you have to get a grip on your finances, your assets, your legal rights and responsibilities, if only for peace of mind. Believing it’ll all resolve itself without active management and decision making is naive at best and irresponsible at worst. 

Being my own client – badly

I’m in danger of becoming a bore or a sinner – a single issue nutter. Or a multi issue nutter perhaps. I have detailed conversations with likely looking colleagues about rainwater tanks: in ground, partially buried or above ground? Above or partially buried. Plastic or concrete? – definitely plastic. 20,000litre or two 10,000l? Two tanks are better. And that’s just the water. Solar power systems are occasions for even more detailed conversations with infinitely more variables to debate. And then there’s the issue of household appliances and how much power and water they use and energy star ratings and low pressure suitability. 

This is all important of course to ensure that what I build works, lasts the distance, and doesn’t leave me literally high and dry. But I know it’s way too soon to be looking at appliances. I’m not going to design my entire kitchen around a 4-star dishwasher that’s on sale right now when it’ll be out of warranty by the time it’s installed. 

All my design training flies out the window when I’m my own client. I know I need to start big picture and work in to the detail, but find myself latching into a detail and mentally committing to it without really meaning to, then finding myself constrained by it. 

Partly this is because there are so many factors to balance, and it becomes progressively easier to make decisions for every decision that gets made: when you’ve decided where the kitchen goes, other things logically flow from that. Constraints are the generator of good design – you don’t get innovative problem solving happening when there aren’t problems to solve. When there aren’t enough constraints, it’s very difficult to decide because there are no obvious downsides or upsides to any one option. 

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t even got a decent topographic map of the land yet, and I’ve only spent a total of about 3 hours there so far.  I’m well short of what I’d have considered a decent site survey back in my professional design days. 

I think I’ll rent a GPS unit suitable for surveying, and spend a day walking round the land, recording as I go. Not only will I have got to know the land, I’ll have gathered the topo data I need to build a 3D model of the site, draw an accurate base map, and ponder the options for building sites and access. 

Once I have that, I can start to make some informed decisions about where to build. The main constraints will be access, sewage and views. In that order probably. 

Then it’ll be time to start calculating the size of my water tanks and the number of batteries I require for my solar power. At that point my inner bore can have free reign, for a while at least.