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Titivating the shed

So as soon as we decided to move to Wanaka in late 2015, Husband and I swung instantly into action. By which I mean: we prepared for action by reflecting on how we could best achieve maximum outcome with minimal swinging as such.

 

It was a really very thorough, measured and definitive thought-process.

 

Ideally we wanted to sell our house in Oamaru in summer 2015, but Husband wasn’t ready because he hadn’t titivated the shed. Or if it wasn’t that, he wanted to weed-mat the garden; or replace some panes of glass; or repaint the deck; or finish the garden folly.

 

(By the way: oh yes it is, ‘titivate’ is TOTALLY a word.)

 

Our beautiful old 1890s character villa with 2000sqm of landscaped cottage gardens may have been glorious and rose-scented and redolent of frilly parasols and croquet and cucumber sandwiches, but it was an absolute fucking motherfucker to maintain. Although we loved it, all our spare time was diverted to gardening or renovating or gardening or trying to convince the kids that pruning was fun or train the dog to differentiate between weeds and flowers.

 

 

I’d asked my unfairly talented mate Maxine to shoot the house, because her architectural photography is ‘jaaast stanning’ as the chick herself would say (not usually about her own work, although she could without risk of false advertising).

 

Eventually she just turned up with her camera. “Look, I don’t care- I don’t have time for this shit- no, I can photoshop in the garage door- fine, I’ll photoshop in the fucking HOUSE, ok? Get out of the frame. And take that fugly sofa with you.” (Only joking; Maxine’s a professional and would never swear on the job.)

 

By this stage – practically winter – we’d pretty much run out of time to list our house, which ideally needed to be sold in late spring / high summer / before the trees completely shit themselves in the autumn. However, being now engaged in full, actionable swing (see above), I went ahead and contacted four of the five RE Agents in town for valuations.

 

My history with RE Agents is somewhat tempestuous and honestly, I haven’t missed them at all since my last torrid affair back in 2011. We were all set to go with online real estate company 200 Square, but despite tracking the local weekly property listings we had no idea what the value of our house was. There was no consistency and nothing even vaguely comparable to our home. Trademe listings with photos featuring heaps of unfolded laundry and dead animals with an unfocused bit of shack in the background stated offers over $500k; some gorgeous character homes appeared to be in the region of less than $250k.

 

We figured industry professionals would know.

 

We figured wrong.

 

They didn’t.

 

I mean, they really, REALLY didn’t.

 

The range of estimates issued by RE Agents varied $90,000 in value.

 

That’s $90,000; or ninety thousand dollars; or FUCKING NINETY THOUSAND FUCKING DOLLARS.

 

(To add some context: we paid $242k for it in 2011.)

 

After looking around, they’d say: “Yaaas, weeell, it’s beautifully presented, but it’s not a great location and you know what we say: ‘location, location, location’ hahaha ahaha! South side of a hill *meh* . . . no view of the sea *meh squared* . . . and *meh to the power of 10* who wants to maintain 2000 square meters of garden?”

 

Well, apart from Not Us, I’m sure um lots of people specifically gardeners and – I dunno – outdoorsy types would like to . . . but WTF DON’T COME INTO MY HOME AND TELL ME IT’S SHIT! THAT’S JUST FUCKING RUDE! ESPECIALLY AFTER I OFFERED YOU FUCKING COFFEE!

 

Since I lived in the house for five and a half years, I figured I knew its limitations better than a RE Agent who’d spent only half an hour in the place staring mainly at their checklist. And I was fairly confident that someone would fall in love with the house: its charm, its privacy, the inspection pit in the garage.

 

(Well, that was what sold Husband.)

 

I’ve never liked the local branch of LJ Hooker’s approach to supporting the community, specifically taking out full page adverts in the Waitaki Herald congratulating themselves on donating thousands of tax-deducted dollars to local non-profits and charitable community organisations. However, we originally bought our house from the fully delicious Claudette, and she was the first agent I contacted.

 

I’d always suspected my feelings for Claudette were unrequited and was devastated as she struggled with commitment issues and grew increasingly emotionally distant.

 

An RE Agent from The Professionals suggested the house was worth only $18,000 more than we paid for it six years ago. So according to her dystopian proposal (and disregarding the thousands we spent on improvements and renovations), we would have ended up with a roaring profit of approximately $5,000 after she skimmed her commission.

 

“Well, I don’t think you exactly got a bargain when you bought this place,” she sniffed.

 

WTF don’t come into my house and tell me it’s shit AND THAT I’M STUPID! THAT’S JUST FUCKING RUDE! ESPECIALLY AFTER I OFFERED YOU FUCKING COFFEE!

 

When challenged with a moderated version of the above, she said, “Over the last month we’ve sold all our properties within days.”

 

“Um . . . does that not . . . kind of . . . suggest you’re undervaluing them?” I asked.

 

“I’ll have you know our clients are very satisfied,” she said defensively.

 

One RE Agent even kicked the dog (although admittedly it was after Jed had spent a good five minutes checking their crotch for contraband, and then worried their pleather folder on the floor . . . he also munched their biro a bit).

 

I was reluctant to go anywhere near Ray White after our experience with the company six years ago, but my To Do list had five items and I’d only ticked off four. However, I was lucky enough to be put through to Leona Stretch. When she came to visit, she patted the dog and loved our house.

 

“But what about the view- sorry; I mean ‘aspect’?” I asked suspiciously. “And locationlocationlocation?”

 

“I suppose it might be worth more if it were on South Hill, but it’s a beautiful home,” said Leona. “Great big section, overlooks the Gardens, minutes from town. It’s fabulous.”

 

When Leona returned with the estimate, she brought presents for the kids and the dog. I’d decided to list with her even before she said she believed our house was worth $350k. I know: I’m a whore. But we were in no particular hurry and um well her valuation was greater than anticipated, so we thought what the heck? We decided to list the house for a proscribed period, sale on offers over $350k.

 

I knew we’d made the right decision when the kids and I went to her office to review the contract and Saoirse applied crayon to everything except the thoughtfully-provided paper; then flooded the place. Leona was unfazed; even Saoirse couldn’t break her.

 

We were fully prepared for Leona to recommend dropping the asking price after a couple of weeks – not that she ever gave that impression, or indeed any impression other than being responsive, professional and striving diligently on our behalf – but evidently I have trust issues.

 

Her assessment of the market (for our home: out of towners), recommendations on how to present the house, and regular reports were all bang on. It took a couple of months, but Leona sold our house for pretty much exactly what she said she would. She could have negotiated a longer settlement than three weeks – but now I’m just struggling to find something to get my bitch on.

 

What I can and GODDAMN IT I WILL get my bitch on like white on rice on a Styrofoam plate in a snowstorm, is that had we gone with any of the other industry professionals’ recommendations we would now be up to $90k out of pocket. WHY DON’T YOU JUST BREAK INTO OUR HOUSE AND STEAL ALL OUR ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT AND . . . um . . . WHATEVER ELSE WE OWN THAT’S WORTH TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ALREADY? (My combination oven? Husband’s sound system? Finn’s lego collection?)

 

And before you point out that grossly undervaluing our house doesn’t involve malicious intent: you might not have meant to kill the frog, but it’s still fucking DEAD.

 

Here’s the promo video for the house set to 70’s porn music.

 

And since you got this far: here’s a picture of Jed sitting on the swing:-

 

Terrifying wainscoting

Hindsight has imbued The Great House-Hunt with heroic and epic proportions. When realism catches up, I can acknowledge how quickly and relatively painlessly we acquired a house.

One of the most distressing things about the frequent trips to Oamaru (all two of them) – apart from the WWII documentaries over breakfast, the prolonged psychological exposure to RE Agents, the terrifying wainscoting, and the ever-present fear that it was all futile and we were going to end up homeless and I’d have to give birth under a bridge – was that The Rise of the Asset was completely overlooked.

Being fully gestational is so exciting that I resent any time not productively spent feeling incredibly blessed, excited and/or clever (honestly: being knocked up makes me feel like a GENIUS, despite all evidence to the contrary involving numerous teenagers demonstrating conclusively that it has more to do with stupidity and/or stunning quantities of alcohol). Although I feel satisfied in living a full complete life, pregnancy is undoubtedly the closest I’ve ever been to a genuine miracle.

During those trips to Oamaru, there were whole MINUTES where I completely forgot I was pregnant. Until I tried to leap over fences, or caught myself stealing food off other peoples’ plates, or assessing railway bridges for exposure to draughts. Which are generally not the aspects of pregnancy upon which I prefer to focus.

Now that we’re home – when we’re not dealing with lawyers, booking containers, performing extreme weeding, sourcing boxes, packing, and selling fishing boats – it’s all about The Asset again.

For a long time I hadn’t been sure whether what I felt was The Asset exploring the boundaries, or pickles negotiating the dangerous bends of my digestive system. But recently there’s been no doubt. I’ve sometimes wondered whether The Asset has a bouncy castle in there, or a squash racquet and ball. In fact, the little guy has been extremely active since the start of the Rugby World Cup. Coincidence? I think not. This is, after all, a Kiwi baby.

The other evening, I was sitting on the couch when the prodding got so extreme I wondered whether the effects might be visible to the naked eye. Although I felt a bit foolish – I’m just into the 24th week, which was surely way too early to visibly detect movement – I pulled up my sweater and stared intently at the Homewrecker.

Next thing, my whole belly did a Mexican wave.

“It was AMAZING!” I gabbled to Husband later. “Possibly the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen! It was like . . . like . . . like it’s ALIVE in there!”

“Er, Sweetie,” said Andrew gently, so as not to startle or alarm the pregnant lady. “It IS.”

Unfortunately, Husband has yet to witness the phenomenon. He’s too impatient to sit staring at the Homewrecker for longer than it takes to demand a cup of coffee; and The Asset refuses to perform on demand. Yet.

In any case, Andrew’s presence appears to have an incredibly soothing effect on his child.

Wild Rose House

So by now I hope we’re all agreed that there’s a special annex in Hell reserved for Real Estate Agents. Any place featuring a conglomeration of RE Agents can only be living torture; but I like to imagine this wildlife reserve also features rancid food, lashings of foul-smelling slime, oxygen that causes choking and taps that drip eternally.

It actually distresses me that Claudette is destined for this place. If she is, I fervently and sincerely hope she gets a room with a nice view.

Claudette is a RE Agent with LJ Hooker, and we love her. In a face-off between Claudette and Haemorrhoid, I just KNOW Claudette would so completely bitch-slap Haemorrhoid right back up her own arse.

I met Claudette while Andrew was still in Dubai, after a friend of The Outlaws’ referred me. Naturally I expected someone in a barely legal mini-skirt reeking of expensive French perfume, but in fact Claudette looks like she would take really good care of you if you had a head-cold. She wears a natty red leather jacket and has wonderful, twinkly eyes and round cheeks that you just want to rub because you instinctively know it would be a life-altering tactile experience. (Obviously you don’t, because being arrested would probably be a similarly life-altering experience.)

I was taken aback when Claudette actually appeared to listen to my description of what we wanted; and frankly startled when she processed that data and presented me with a short-list of property from her books that met all my criteria of being private and secluded with a generous garden.

One of Claudette’s recommendations was Wild Rose House. Since access to the house was tricky, Claudette said I was welcome to do a driveby. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the place. I was immediately predisposed towards it. I like things that are confounding.

On our first joint reconnaissance to Oamaru, Claudette took Andrew and me to see Wild Rose House. It wasn’t where I’d thought it was at all – which was why I couldn’t find it, if that makes sense.

The day we viewed the house it had snowed overnight. The garden looked lank and miserable, but Wild Rose House itself embraced us in a snuggly fug of cosiness. Cunningly, the vendor had just baked bread, so instead of stale cigarettes or mouldy carpet or a build-up of dead skin cells mainly comprising feet, it smelled deliciously yeasty.

Despite the fact that we loved the house, there were a number of factors that put us off. For me, it was the vendor not offering me a slice of bread. In retrospect, if she’d given me the whole loaf, I would have put down a deposit right there and then.

For both of us, the main issue was location – not from our perspective, but for its resale potential. Although you can’t see them from the house, warehouses line the main road below. But we were more concerned that the area is renowned for being the chilliest spot in Oamaru. When I describe the house’s location being “in the cold, damp gully”, everyone goes, “Ah, THERE”.

However, we were charmed enough by the house itself that it sidled unassumingly into the number four slot on our short-list.

After this first house-hunt, we were rather surprised to find that neither Orchard House nor Wild Rose House hit the top slot. In fact our first choice was a house on Tay Street, which the RE Agent advised we could probably get lower than the asking price.

The initial viewing of Tay Street was unfavourable, due to the place smelling of armpits and my fear of catching herpes from the carpet. The back of the house was was a bolt-on extension, with a ‘conservatory’ that was effectively a glasshouse chopped in half. However, it was a beautiful old period house with high ceilings and original fittings, in a wonderful location about five minutes from the centre of town overlooking the harbour. It also included a fully contained sleep-out at the bottom of the front garden.

Demonstrating a guilefulness I’d previously unsuspected of him, Andrew suggested we could sell the sleepout to pay for renovating the house. Cosmetic alterations, he hastily reassured me. Coat of paint, rip out the smelly carpets, polyeurethane the floor – that should cover it. Have it done in a weekend.

Her Goatiness and Agent of Death shattered our dreams when, upon our request, they went to check out the house. “Dry rot,” was Her Goatiness’ verdict. “Everywhere. Window sashes like butter. SOFT butter,” she elaborated. “Also the extension at the back needs to be ripped out. Doesn’t have a building permit.”

So. After we didn’t get our way with Orchard House, we moved onto #3 – Andrew’s preferred house on Bushy Bush Road. After his kindly agreeing to bid on Orchard House, the least I could do was pretend to reconsider Bushy Bush.

In the end, even Andrew agreed Bushy Bush was a long shot. It required extensive interior decorating and, since the asking price was significantly higher than our budget, it was clear that in the unlikely event we actually got it we would have to decorate the interior with artistic interpretation of wattle and mud.

Throughout all this, we kept coming back to Wild Rose House. We drove by it on several occasions to gauge the concentration of cold and relative saturation. High on the side of the gully, it enjoys sunlight morning, mid-day and afternoon. Despite our concerns about resale, we both acknowledged that it was precisely the type of house and location we personally wanted to live in.

Our offer was accepted and possession is in early October.

I just know we’ll be so happy living there.

Extravaganza bonanza

Well folks, it’s been a spectacular show at Deadlyjelly’s Travelling Circus.

We have now officially viewed every house/shack/shed for sale in Oamaru; got to grips with dry rot; negotiated until our eyes bled; counter-offered until the vendors’ eyes bled; and fought off ravening real estate agents with targeted nudity. We set the dog on one and currently have a hit-man contracted to take out another.

As if that weren’t enough, there was also a fortieth birthday party with possum; explosive goats; t-shirts with nipple holes; a caesarian resulting in two squeaking puppies; and five bags of baby clothes. In the meantime, I tested the structural integrity of a lamp-post with the rear bumper of the Outlaws’ Audi v8.

But in the midst of this extravaganza bonanza, by far the most exciting event was SANDWICHES!

No, wait. Not that.

I meant: the auction.

The auction with SANDWICHES!

Because the latest trip to Oamaru was scheduled around the sale of Orchard House.

Three weeks ago, after viewing Orchard House at the open home, we called in to see the real estate agent – not affectionately called Haemorrhoid. When we told her we were interested in the property, she practically gnawed our arms off.

Haemorrhoid agreed to show us the place again two days later and, while there, I reiterated our interest and suggested we might put in an offer before it went to auction. With a practiced pout of devastated regret – which she might have pulled off were it not for the smug smirk and misplaced air of self-importance – she said, “Weeell, we’ve had a lot of interest, you know. Lot. Of interest. Especially from out-of-towners. You’d really need to put your best foot forward.”

As it turned out, I should have followed my instincts to put my best foot forward then and there and rearranged her face.

That would be called a Benefit of Hindsight.

We came away with the distinct impression that we were too shabby to afford Orchard House – and that we should wash our car.

However, we had an undercover agent operating on our behalf in Waitaki. Concealed in a shrub with a pair of binoculars, Her Goatiness staked out the open homes every Saturday and Sunday in the lead-up to the auction. Her report stated: ‘Nil zero sum total zilch visitors. Quote lot of interest unquote appears alleged and spurious. Slash Haemorrhoid’s tyres? Please advise.’

A week before the auction, Haemorrhoid sent us a text message asking if we were attending. After analysing the slightly desperate tone of the text, Andrew and I deduced we were possibly the sole and exceptionally rare party interested in Orchard House.

Now, you may have picked up that Andrew was immoderately unenthused about Orchard House upon first viewing. And yes, of course I considered emotionally blackmailing him with the additional leverage of being 5 months pregnant with his child.

However, after many extensive discussions on the issue of property, we came to understand what is important to him and me and to us as a couple, and an awful lot of that is wanting the other to be happy. Which is just one of the reasons I love being half of this partnership. So I applied no further persuasion (apart from occasionally reminding him of the ORCHARD! just to be absolutely sure he was aware of the presence of peach trees.) Eventually he announced he ‘could live there if he had to’ – which, as far as I was concerned, was a seal of approval.

His change of attitude was more a gradually encroaching yet entirely grudging acknowledgement that Orchard House was perhaps the best of all the properties we’d viewed within our budget.

And so we geared up for auction. We notified Haemorrhoid we would attend; Andrew boned up on auction terminology; we confirmed our finance was set to go; we scoured the auction pack; we wondered whether there would be snacks.

Ok, I wondered whether there’d be snacks.

(I mean: they were going to a lot of trouble; you’d think they’d lay on snacks, right?)

We agreed Husband should do the bidding, since I was rather over-excited. My job – which Andrew made up on the morning to keep me amused and make me feel involved – was to note the progression of the auction: the order of bidding and amounts. I had a pen.

We were barely in the door when I was distracted by three huge platters of SANDWICHES! They looked WONDERFUL: cut on the diagonal with no crusts and an imaginative and challenging range of fillings involving mayonnaise. I asked Andrew to taste a couple for meat and/or poison but pushed him out of the way because he took too long.

I’d just about finished the first platter when the Old Girl – one of the vendors, who we’d met at the second viewing of the house – came over to chat. She asked after The Asset, then disappeared and returned seconds later with a gift: a knitted doll. Her husband’s hobby is knitting dolls. He’s Dutch. Really, I can’t make further comment, because it was an incredibly sweet gesture and I was – look, I was touched. It’s our first baby present.

Befjes Muff Diver

However, I do blame her for my neglecting to spot the plate of miniature Lamingtons until just before the auction started. The presentation was a thing of beauty: a mass of chocolate and delicate pink coconut-covered confections topped with puffs of cream. Unfortunately I only had time to cram one into my mouth before the auction kicked off.

There were about twelve bystanders: a couple of families with kids, some squinty-eyed mouth-breathers and a coven of real estate agents who all looked like they styled their hair with a deep fat fryer. I stood there eyeballing potential opponents to intimidate them – a difficult stunt to pull with a knitted dolly tucked under one arm and my chin pebbledashed with dessicated coconut.

Now, my Bucket List isn’t that ambitious. Well, it’s virtually indistinguishable from my New Year’s Resolutions for the last decade, except that it includes singing karaoke. I’ve never been much interested in seeing the Northern Lights because, you know, I’m pretty sure you can achieve much the same effect with certain drugs. And I’ve never had any interest in swimming with dolphins. They’re slimy, nasty, vicious creatures with a reputation for kidnapping, bullying, extortion and even murder. They probably don’t put the toilet seat down and also, DOLPHINS RAPE WOMEN. That last link is well worth reading for Pearl Caligula’s description of Ireland’s national treasure alone which, if it doesn’t make you laugh like a drain, either your sense of humour or mine is defective. No no, I wouldn’t like to say which. I’m sure you’ll giggle.

Bidding at auction was never originally on my Bucket List, but that, my friends, was an oversight. The tense battle of nerves between auctioneer and bidder was such a RUSH. And when Andrew bid – I swear I have NEVER experienced anything so SEXY. It was just as well he was the only person bidding. It could have got positively indecent except that, thankfully, Husband had a SANDWICH! concealed in his pocket. (Curried egg mayo with grated carrot – surprisingly delicious.)

Our bid didn’t reach the reserve despite the auctioneer’s increasingly desperate attempts to persuade us to bid against ourselves; or anyone else to join in. The auction passed in.

After all the excitement, the aftermath was a bit of an anticlimax. We went into the house and sat on hard chairs. Haemorrhoid seemed at a loss as to how to facilitate negotiating an agreement midway between the vendor’s reserve and our bid. We attempted to kick-start the process by upping our offer. She ignored that and instead, attempted to intimidate us by informing us there was another couple present who were prevented from bidding at auction but planned to put in an offer. Unfortunately for her, we’ve never been much intimidated by imaginary people.

At this stage, Haemorrhoid had a face on her like she’d been licking a cat’s arse, which was putting me off the remainder of the SANDWICHES! I realized it was all over when I discovered the fucking kids had cleaned out the Lamingtons. We made our excuses and left after the Old Boy attempted to confiscate his knitted doll.

As it turned out, we should have known better than to take on a Dutch couple with nearly 160 years of combined cunning, guile and inbred tightness between them. The last thing we heard from Haemorrhoid was that the Old Boy had asked her to relist the house at precisely the mid-point between his reserve and our offer.

So just to spite her, we bought another house.

ORCHARD!

We thought the house-hunting trip to Oamaru might afford an opportunity to shift some of our possessions.

We asked Sheriff if we could borrow his trailer – the official reason being that ours wasn’t big enough for the sort of Extreme Relocation Husband had in mind.

Unofficially, only two days before our extremely unpremeditated and totally disorganised trip, we realized our trailer’s warrant of fitness had expired. We considered renewing it on the way through Blenheim, except Andrew feared it would fail due to the condition of the wheels.

I suspect this officially qualifies us as Bogans.

Andrew wasn’t sure whether Sheriff had a trailer, because ‘he has a tractor’.

I really had no idea why possession of one precludes the other; so, “What the fuck are you talking about?” I snorted. “Of COURSE Sheriff has a fucking trailer. He has EVERYTHING. I’d stake my life and that of my unborn child and this delicious caramel slice on it. Oops. Too late.”

Admittedly an aggressively anti-dainty response, but I’m basically trying to spend my surplus swearing credit for the next 13+ years before the baby arrives. That’s a LOT of execration to jam into four months. My language is absolutely filthy. I’ll go back and attempt to edit it out of this post. (Note: this translates to a roughly 75% depreciation on wordcount.)

Of COURSE Sheriff has a state-of the art trailer that features its own braking system probably with anti-lock and hydraulics; it has four wheels, a jockey wheel, twice as much bed area as ours and a built-in spa pool.

Instead of merely touring our possessions around the country, we relocated my purple fridge, Andrew’s dirtbike, coolbox, a crate of Andrew’s junk oily man things, and two boxes of my crap beloved literature for storage at The Outlaws’.

Then we started into the property search, with a grand tour of all the open houses in and around Oamaru. This was equally uplifting and depressing. Uplifting from the perspective that there are some entirely habitable houses in Oamaru if you have a spare $200k and don’t mind strange, unidentifiable smells. Depressing due to the accumulative psychological effect of our standards imperceptibly rising with each property visited.

We visited pretty much every house for sale in Oamaru. Amongst the quite respectable family homes, we viewed places that would have been perfect had the garden extended further than the bush in a pot; houses with stunning views of the local landfill; houses with stunning aromas of the local meatworks; houses with State Highway One two paces from the front door; houses with patches of wall boarded up with plywood; places featuring grubby tenants in the front room preoccupied with snorting spliffs and erectile dysfunction.

Now, I’m not sure about Andrew, but I was expecting – perhaps it was naïve – or idealistically romantic for Oamaru – but I thought. Well.

I imagined Andrew and I walking into a house and our eyes meeting in an instant of perfect, piquant accord, our excitement swelling as we trail after the real estate agent until she leaves us to “talk it over”; barely containing myself until she closes the door softly behind her, then giving a shriek that somehow manages to be sexy and charmingly girlish rather than making the nerves spasm in cramp and leaping into Andrew’s arms and him twirling me around, laughing joyously. Then we’d both start talking at once and there’d be more joyous laughter and possibly more twirling.

So that didn’t happen. Didn’t come close. Possibly because I’m not sure Andrew’s given to anything more excessive than an enigmatic smirk. Also, of course, the social twiggle he issues to acknowledge someone has gone to the effort to make a joke although they’ll have to try MUCH harder to evince anything in the vicinity of joyous laughter.

He’s also not the twirling type – although I live in hope. Once – admittedly a LONG time ago – at least 10 years – also Andrew was really quite lopsided – we were at a nightclub and he treated me to a Dirty Dancing moment. You know after “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” Patrick Swayze throws Jennifer Whatsherchops over his head and then everyone starts dancing and he lifts her up in the air. That bit. Frankly, it was quite uncomfortable about the pits and after – ooh, I don’t know – four seconds, I felt a bit of a pratt poked up there. I know I was supposed to be carried away by the moment and Andrew’s strong, manly arms, and oblivious to anyone but him, but I ended up looking around thinking, “I hope he puts me down soon and nobody steals my vodka and ginger ale in the meantime”. But all said and done, it’s a nice experience to have shared together and I remember it fondly.

ANYHOO. It soon became apparent that Andrew’s and my preferences are – astonishingly – completely contradictory. Basically, the problem is that I prefer tasteful houses, while Husband doesn’t.

I fell for a gorgeous 1890 house in pristine condition about 25 minutes out of town with an orchard. ORCHARD! Everything I loved about it, Andrew hated: the walk-in larder off the kitchen (“That would just annoy me, having to walk down two steps to the fridge”), three bedrooms (“Too small”), original wood paneling (“Feels dark”), woolshed (“Eyesore. We’d have to tear that down”), a log burner and a destructor (“SNIFF!”), brass fittings (no comment), fully self-contained and largely self-sufficient (“Lots of maintenance”).

Andrew’s flat refusal to be swayed by the ORCHARD! makes me seriously question the foundation of our marriage if not our entire relationship.

Thankfully, whenever I struggle with doubt, I have that Dirty Dancing moment to fall back on.

The property Andrew liked didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. It had a roof, walls, driveway, whatever. View of the sea – but really, EVERYWHERE in Oamaru has a view of the sea. It also, admittedly, had lambs – but in my opinion lambs are overrated. I’ve just never understood their popularity/appeal.

It is probably just as well both properties are likely beyond our means at this point in time.

We will have to compromise between my search for a home that might sate my violent nesting instinct, and Andrew’s interest in investment potential and sale value.

I’m looking for a haven where I can hang mobiles and paint the nursery while considering the benefits of terry-cloth nappies over disposables. Andrew’s looking for a shack he can do up and make a killing on – preferably a massacre – in five years time.

I have visions of me going, “Honey, we need to go; contractions are 10 seconds apart and also: FU-” and Andrew saying, “Yeah, look, can you just give me two minutes until I finish plastering the fireplace.”

Infected labia piercing

Within about an hour of listing the house on Trademe, I realised more organisation was required than telling interested parties to rock up any time for a look.

I called everyone back and scheduled people at half hour intervals on Sunday. Then, when all available slots from noon to 6pm were booked, I moved on to Monday.

Husband and I scrubbed the house from top to bottom and chucked all our belongings in the pantry. The place looked pretty spruce by the time Doug and Susan arrived.

I had high hopes for Susan. She sounded quite lovely on the telephone. Indeed, she was equally lovely in person, if not even more so.

Shame about her boyfriend.

I encourage Jed to bark whenever anyone comes up the drive. He charges down the stairs at such speed I wouldn’t be surprised to follow him one day and find a Jed-shaped hole in the front door. I suppose he’s excited at the prospect of fresh crotch, and who can blame him?

I normally restrain Jed in the yard until I check whether the visitor is comfortable with dogs then, assuming the response is positive, release him. Unfortunately, for some reason, Doug was walking up the drive in front of his car – which was even stranger since it was raining like it only rains in Waitakere: with a ferocious gusto.

Unfortunately, Jed took one look at Doug, and decided he didn’t like him AT ALL. When Jed dislikes someone his bark sounds quite chilling, like he took a wrong turn on the way from Baskerville. I was aware Jed was making his “Don’t fuck with me mofo” bark, and he refused to come when I issued a recall.

I didn’t see this, but Andrew – who was watching from the bedroom window – reported later that Jed took a run at Doug.

Now, in my puppy’s defence, I didn’t like the look of Doug much either (not to the extent of attempting to kneecap him with my teeth, but still). Jed’s also been rather unsettled recently with the frenzy of packing going on around him.

“Don’t mind him; he’s very friendly!” I called, completely oblivious to my dog swinging out of Doug’s shorts.

“He doesn’t look that friendly,” muttered Doug.

I grabbed Jed by the scruff and banished him to the garage.

I decided Doug and Susan weren’t suitable because Doug tracked mud up the carpet. Also because he kicked my dog in the head.

(That’s the official version of events, and I’m sticking to it.)

Darryl arrived before Doug and Susan had left.

“Hi!” I said, “Darryl, isn’t it? Niamh. Listen, sorry about this, but these people need to get down the drive and your car is blocking them in. Would you mind just letting them out?”

“No problem, sweet as,” said Darryl – and that was the last we saw of him.

He just fucked off!

(Perhaps he was attacked by a tree on the way down the drive.)

Next up was Johno and Sandra. Johno introduced himself thus:-

“The drive won’t work with a boat.”

“Er, you mean because it’s tarmac not water?” I said, confused.

“No. I mean we won’t be able to get a boat trailer up the drive.”

“Oh, I see. You have a boat-”

“No.”

“Right . . .”

“But I’m getting a boat.”

“Ok. Well, I don’t suppose there’s much point in showing you the rest of the house, then.”

Bev turned up with Philippe, who came accessorised with a natty little moustache, a briefcase and a cravat.

I started into my well-practiced patter: “Aaand here’s the garage – plenty of bench space. Most important part of the house, right Philippe? <nudge>”

“I don’t think so,” said Philippe dismissively. “I don’t do . . . that sort of thing.”

I’m not sure what Sort of Thing he was referring to, but I decided that regardless what that Sort of Thing was, I would not endorse a man who didn’t do it.

I was surprised how many people were looking for accommodation because their current residence had been put on the market. Many gave off a distinct smell of desperation. Except the girl who turned up with eight nose rings, a stud through her chin, and a tattoo of what appeared to be a hamster on her forearm. I think the smell emitting from her was an infected labia piercing.

There was one no-show, and a woman who called to say the mobile reception was too poor for her requirements. Another woman called to say her teenager had gone on hunger strike at the prospect of living so far from civilisation. For a moment I wondered why she was telling me this – turned out she was cancelling.

The following day, we showed the house to four more couples, including Brian and Kushla, who – mistakenly and regrettably – I called ‘Krishna’ for the duration of the viewing.

That afternoon, a car drove up our drive. I wasn’t expecting anyone, but followed Jed downstairs. It was a skinhead and his girlfriend. The skinhead poked his head out the car window.

“We’re on a mission,” he said by way of introduction.

“Can I help you?” I said.

“Are the owners here?”

“Excuse me? No!” I said, so incredulous I didn’t even try to discourage Jed’s attempts to fire himself in the driver’s window and gnaw him.

“Do you have the owners’ contact number? It’s just,” he continued in the face of my rare speechlessness (and Jed’s slavering teeth), “we heard this house is for rent and we thought-”

“It’s been let,” I snapped. “This is my private residence. Please go away.”

Had he stepped out of the car, I would have ENCOURAGED Jed to bite him. As it is, I hope Jed clawed up his paint work.

But the best was yet to come.

Blobs of flobber

Two years ago, when Husband and I first saw Turanga Road listed on Trademe, we knew without even seeing the house it was where we wanted to live.

I sincerely hope I come across as enthusiastic rather than calculating when I say we treated the application process much like an interview. We launched a full-scale charm jihad against our potential landlords.

At least: we turned up on time; fully clothed (which we considered a basic pre-requisite but apparently NOT NECESSARILY); we were fragrantly aromatic with base notes of fresh skin cells and top notes of soap. I wore a pair of walking boots to visually support my claim that I was a robust, rugged, outdoor type, ready to machete a blazing trail through the bush at the slightest provocation.

We didn’t massage the truth, so much as shine a rose tinted, warm fuzzy light on it – but even had we lied, we would at least have MADE THE EFFORT to come up with compelling, vaguely plausible lies.

While we were viewing the house, The Competition turned up. Grimly, I considered sneaking out and telling them they had the wrong place, or pretending to be a neighbour and smashing in their windscreen with a dead possum.

But when I saw them, I realised these measures were unnecessary. The man looked like someone had conducted chemical experiments on his head; the exploding tufts of facial hair would most accurately be described as ‘green’. His partner was so obese she could not get out of the car. Great blobs of flobber blotted up against the windscreen. (The real mystery was how she got in there in the first place – there must have been heavy machinery involved.)

Two years ago, I thought that couple was an aberration.

Not any more.

True love: definition

I love my landlords. I mean it: I love them. So many things about them: the way they say my name, how they know what I’m thinking without having to speak, the way they run laughing through cornfields with sunlight playing on their hair. You might say Darren and Ingrid COMPLETE ME on a real estate level.

But seriously, it’s just about impossible not to love a man with the names of his children tattooed down his legs, or a woman whose sense of fairness is so highly developed she gave me a gift voucher to cover any gas that might have leaked. Go on, give it a go: try hating them – or start smaller; try simply being indifferent to them.

See?

IMPOSSIBLE.

However, when I offered to list and show the house to prospective tenants, I was unaware how MUCH I love Darren and Ingrid. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t go to that much trouble for Husband, who I indeed love, a lot.

But I suppose there’s only one of him, and two of them.

Within two minutes of listing the house, I got the first enquiry. Then, for the next two days I walked around with a telephone clamped to my ear, getting used to conversations like this:-

Enquirer: Hello?

Me: Hi.

Enquirer: Yes, I’m calling about the house. On Trademe. The pictures look GORGEOUS-

Me: Well, it’s lovely at the moment, but not so much in winter. I won’t lie to you: it’s DANK. You need at least two dehumidifiers going full time. Sometimes it rains for an ENTIRE WEEK straight-

Enquirer: Have many people called about it?

Me: Yes, loads.

Enquirer: I’ve always wanted to live in the bush.

Me: But, you know, there are limitations living in a place like this. The house is pretty high maintenance. You have to clean the water filter on the tank once a month, and if you take runoff from the roof, you have to clear dead possums and shoes out of the gutters-

Enquirer: That’s no problem, I used to be a plasterer.

Me: Um. Ok. So, what do you do now?

Enquirer: Oh, we- me and my wife- work in the city-

Me: You realise this place is pretty isolated? It’s four kilometres up a dead end road and the last bit is gravel. If you’re commuting, the entry point to the motorway is snarled up from about seven in the morning-

Enquirer: We’re used to commuting. We live on Queen Street, takes us at least QUARTER OF AN HOUR to drive to work.

Me: Can you believe it? So, would it just be you and your wife?

Enquirer: Oh no, we have five kids, my parents, a dog, four cats, a kitten and a hyena.

Me: Really, I’m not sure this house is for you. It was designed and built for a couple. There’s only two bedrooms and no garden-

Enquirer: No, no, it looks PERFECT. When can I see it?

Me: I suppose that depends on how long it will take you to travel from your distant planet.

Enough Technology™

‘No pets’ notwithstanding, the landlady agreed to make an exception for Jed. I think she was won over by the photo of him looking like a movie star not dissimilar to Johnny Depp.

Curly coat retriever

He's not usually cross eyed.

I didn’t send her the glamour shot.

After that, the only question that remained was whether Marlborough had Enough Technology™ to entice Andrew to move. I’m uncertain as to how much exactly constitutes Enough Technology™, but it took Andrew a week to verify the existence of Enough Technology™.

Last Monday week, I embarked on a diplomatic mission to view the house and meet our prospective landlords. The most economical way to get to Blenheim was to fly into Christchurch, hire a car, and drive the 5½ hours north.

The house and surrounds are stunning. It sits on 15 acres of land which plunges dramatically down to the sea. All you can see for miles is sea, sky and an unpopulated forested peninsula across the bay.

Within 20 minutes of meeting Landlord and Landlady – fearful of another applicant bursting in the front door demonstrating their reliability, superior dusting technique and lack of dog – I had signed the tenancy contract.

So far, we have been incredibly lucky with our landlords. Considering Landlord and Landlady fed and watered me and put me up for the night, I think it safe to presume our luck will continue.

Unfortunately, the two days I spent there were quite overcast, so the photos I took inside the house didn’t come out well.

Showing them to Husband upon my return:-

Me: There’s a heated towel rail!

Husband: Oh wow! Is the view like this all the way around?

Me: Yes, and there’s a towel rail, which is heated.

Husband: The living room looks quite large.

Me: It is-

Husband: That’s a picture of the drive, is it?

Me: Yes. I think those are marigolds-

Husband: What the hell is THAT?

Me: What do you think it is? It’s a towel rail. I took a photo of it. To show you.

Me: It’s heated, you know.

Proximity to Satan on the family tree

Even in NZ, we heard rumours of expats stampeding out of Dubai: abandoning their cars at the airport, trampling over fallen bodies at the check-in. Depending which reports you listen to, Dubai is an apocalyptic landscape of anarchy, looting, rioting and burning, home only to broken dreams.

In fact, the only thing thriving in the city appears to be the expat grapevine, fuelled by a bottomless supply of media suppression and cheap petrol.

I was therefore nervous about the likelihood of re-renting our property. Assuming we could find new tenants – you know, stake out Dubai airport – the timing was critical. Ideally, Husband would prepare the villa, then assess potential viewers for quality tenancy. Or, depending on the state of the warzone, at least ensure they weren’t anarchists, looters, rioters or pyromaniacs.

Two years after leaving Dubai, I still receive more spam from UAE based Real Estate Agents than from Juicygirls. I spent a couple of weeks trying to rate RE Agents according to a/ quantity of spam b/ quality of spam c/ proximity to Satan on the family tree.

Eventually, Husband suggested listing it on Dubizzle, a UAE based classifieds website.

Within a day of listing the ad, I had 15 responses.

Most were Real Estate Agents, but several were from people who had obviously been lured by my tag line: ‘DIRECT FROM OWNER! NO AGENCY FEES!’

Some were undoubtedly attracted by not having to fork out Dhs 20000 (NZ$ 8500) to a RE Agent for downloading a copy of the standard tenancy agreement and rejecting phonecalls while waving a clipboard around. However, most just appeared pathetically grateful to deal with someone who returned their phone calls/emails and – bonus – spoke semi-literate English.

Before Husband left for Dubai, I had whittled the short list down to five applicants. I agonised about how to let four of them down, since they all seemed quite lovely. In the end, the bottleneck sorted itself out.

I called one applicant – UK long distance – at 11am his time one Sunday morning, and he said, ‘Could you call back later? Rough night.’ At least, that’s what I thought he said, because it SOUNDED like ‘Moumph wall grankle arwar whumph’. I think he was belching at the time. Bless him, he actually sent an email later, asking whether the villa was still available. I decided he lacked certain qualities I looked for in a model tenant, and let him down gently.

One couple viewed the place and decided it was too small; another woman’s husband was made redundant and they stayed in their current accommodation; the fourth couple looted and pillaged the villa before trying to set Husband on fire.

In the end, it went to the couple Husband was most taken with – who also happened to be the most proactive, responsive and friendly.

So everyone’s happy.

No mutant teddy bears

After days of viewing shacks we were almost resigned to living in someone’s garden shed for NZ$ 400/pw with $3 knocked off if we mowed their lawns. We had registered with every Real Estate Agent within a 100 kilometre circumference of Auckland, since Husband nurtures some idealistic theory that the real estate industry is in the business of sourcing the perfect property and matching it to the ideal tenant.

Having had more exposure to Real Estate Agents in my short-to-medium life I know their business is actually to test your reserves of patience and restraint. Therefore I continued to browse www.trademe.co.nz daily, conducting preliminary searches on rental property with keywords: ‘private’, ‘quiet’, ‘not in any way a hovel’, and further narrowing the search with ‘3 car garage’, ‘no mutant teddy bears’ and ‘cow-free’.

Trademe turned up a wide variety of options and after a while I became adept at deciphering the adverts. You might think a property listing featuring a single photo of a bathroom is simply bad marketing. So did we, until we viewed a couple of these places and found it was in fact good PR. ‘Fully furnished’ = a rusty toaster and range of three-legged chairs. ‘Incredible views’ = but the house is a squat. ‘Good TV reception’ = there’s a transmitter in your backyard.

One morning, I stumbled across the advert for Turanga Road. The pictures looked wonderful – not one toilet shot among them. As we drove through Waitakere, I knew the house would have to be a hole in the ground to turn me off (and if it was an insulated hole in the ground, I was in).

The house was about 4km up a dead end road surrounded by bush. Although on the edge of the Waitakere Reserve, it was only 20 minutes from the centre of Auckland. Husband remained non-committal until he saw the garage taking up the ground floor. He was so touched he barely even noticed the yellow and maroon colour scheme.

The landlord/caretaker, Darren, informed us three couples had offered on the house, with another three viewing it that evening. Obviously we were going to have to turn on the charm. This wasn’t a big issue for me, but Husband has a daily charm ration, which is finite within half an hour and better applied in short, intense bursts over extended periods.

Considering we spent three and a half hours conducting a xxx-rated full-frontal Charm Crusade, Husband did exceptionally well – I was very proud of him. My techniques involve tossing my hair around and blatant flattery. Husband goes for bribery and lashings of manly mirth (he also tucks his hands in his armpits, but I think that’s more nervous tension than charm specifically).

We had one fumble, when I asked Darren whether his friends/owners would have any problem with our repainting the house. I thought he’d be delighted, since the paint job was about ten years old and looked a bit patchy. And the colours were psychologically abusive.

Instead, Darren looked at me as if I were in the process of biologically propagating a horn in the centre of my forehead.

“Paint it?” he said. “Why- well, I- I hadn’t really thought about it. I mean, if you wanted to- you know, as long as you don’t paint it something horrible like- like black and purple. I suppose it would be all right.”

I’m thinking, “DUDE, it’s flaccid maroon and egg-yolk yellow,” but Husband stepped in firmly and said, “No problem, we love these colours. Don’t we Niamhie?”

“LOVE them,” I confirmed, nodding vigorously. “Sorry I even asked; I was deranged momentarily.”

After a couple of hours of chat, Darren agreed to let the house to us, which thankfully meant we didn’t have to resort to a headlock. We stuck around another while to sabotage the remaining hopeful tenants, and meet his wife, Ingrid.

Apart from the brawny colour scheme, the house is intelligently designed and eco-friendly. A self-contained water supply derives either from the roof or the nearby creek. There is a deck off the living room opening onto bush and glorious views of the Henderson Valley, and we have our own waterfall by the front drive! The encroaching bush and a colossal tree that must be over a hundred years old is held back by a retaining wall out front, which cost $75000 and apparently nearly finished the owners.

It is about as far from Dubai as you could imaginably get

Snot vapour

Shortly after we arrived, Husband and I moved into a house belonging to Father In Law’s friend, who was on holiday with his family for a month. They had two cats that seemed to spend obscene amounts of time licking their arses. Husband erupted in explosions of snot vapour as soon as he walked in the door, which meant the cats were particularly fond of him: one liked to serenade outside the bedroom door at 3am, and they left him dismembered gifts strewn around the living room floor.

Since we were still eating at The Outlaws’ we were effectively living between two houses, which was quite unsettling. After a couple of weeks we moved back in with The Outlaws and 24/7 fridge access, and unpacked our bags.

We were keen to find our own place, so embarked on an intense campaign of house hunting – despite the entire country being shut for Christmas holidays. Father In Law donated a vintage Mazda redolent of wet dog, mould and rotten fabric. The windscreen wipers were rusted in place and the car hosted a colony of industrious pet spiders. The hazard warning lights were possessed and turned on randomly of their own accord. Husband grew proficient at driving with his knees, while shoving the driver’s window back up with both hands. It also had a wide turning circle, as Husband discovered when he did an illegal U-turn and took out someone’s dustbin.

“Think I’ll miss that?” he asked, three milliseconds before booting it across the garden.

Three days into its touring career, the car refused to start. It didn’t look great waving goodbye to prospective landlords as we pushed the car down the road.

Husband took issue with my jump-starting:

“Niamhie, you have to POP! the clutch. Just let it go. POP! Like that.”

“Well, you know, maybe you need to PUSH! harder. PUSH! There you are.”

Husband had barely schooled me in the art of POP!ping when he intimidated me into attempting the reverse jump-start:

“What are you complaining about? It’s easy. Just do the same thing, backwards.”

I was so flustered by the POP!ing in reverse – and Husband’s straining face in the windscreen – that I nearly backed into a parked car.

It hasn’t taken long to become disillusioned with the rental market. The standard of property ranges from almost habitable to ‘hovel’. This was Husband’s pronouncement on a couple of properties (I never knew he was that high maintenance; it came as quite a shock). In a couple of places, the owner’s crap was stored on the premises. One had locked the door onto the back deck (Real Estate Agent: “Don’t worry: the landlord can come around the side of the house, he won’t bother you at all.”) and another had a garden studio/shed filled with rusty lawnmower rotors and teddy bears with one arm and computer monitors with the face kicked in.

There are frequent disagreements between the budget and the wish list, never mind the frequent disagreements about what comprises the wish list. Auckland City has never much appealed to me, so I’m looking for something quiet and private outside the city.

Husband’s wish list is more . . . let’s call it spontaneously organic. He agrees with the private and quiet – but not countryside because there are no shops and it’s too exposed and damp in winter and cows give him the willies. He turned down a property on Huia Road, on the brand new basis that a three-car garage was a minimum requirement. After accompanying Father In Law on a business trip to Sydney, Husband requested a beach-front location with direct access to the pounding surf.

I assumed he was joking when he specified a helicopter pad.

One morning, we went to see a privately owned property in Greenhithe on the North Shore. Although it was uncomfortably close to a main road, it was surrounded by bush and newly renovated. We were almost tempted.

“I won’t lie,” said Husband to the owner, “we’re very interested. But we have more properties to view, so we don’t want to commit just yet, you understand. We’ve got appointments with several Real Estate Agents today – stop POKING me Niamhie – they’ve been closed for the holidays, you know, so we’ve got several lined up. But this is a lovely house and thank you for your time and I’m sure we’ll be in touch.”

“You know earlier, when you were going on about our action-packed property viewing schedule?” I shouted back through the open window as Husband pushed the car down a hill.

“<grunt!> Yes?”

“You know it’s Sunday?”

“It is? Oh.”

Reason we will not regret departing Dubai #32,557

Our water pump in the villa has been broken for about a year. At one point Husband tried to fix it, but instead he broke the bypass tap. Now that we plan on renting the villa, we realise we have to address the problem, so it fell to me to call Emrill and schedule an appointment.

About a year ago, we had Emrill come to look at the water pump. In fairness, they did indeed look at it; they might even have kicked it a couple of times. Then they charged us US$ 300, which they claimed was for fixing the problem, but was ACTUALLY for standing around feeling their armpits and the inestimable pleasure of their company.

So I called 800-EMRILL:

Me: Hello, I’d like to have someone come and fix our water pump, please.

Customer Service: What is the problem, Madam?

Me: The water pump is broken.

CC: What’s wrong with it?

Me: It’s not working.

CC: Ok. Where are you located?

Me: Springs 2, Street 12, Villa 66-

CC: Villa 9

Me: No, Villa 66-

CC: Yes, Villa 9-

Me: No, Villa 66, S-I-X  S-I-X

CC: Someone will come.

Me: Thank you. Er, when?

CC: Maybe today.

Me: Ok, can you give me an idea what time?

CC: I say, today.

Me: Well, I’m not going to be in the house this afternoon-

CC: Please call if you go out.

Me: You have no idea when someone might arrive? Do you really think this is an efficient way to do business?

CC: What is this word: ‘efficient’?

Me: Listen, I have much better words than that.

When I put down the phone, it took me half an hour to unclench my buttocks.

Now, according to Murphy’s Law of Existentialism, the only way to guarantee the maintenance man would show up was to leave the house. This is absolutely sound, failsafe logic with only one flaw, admittedly a large one: I would not be there when they arrived.

I spent ages agonising about whether to call Emrill to inform them I was going out; or to not call Emrill in order to fully convey the extent of my pettiness and ire; or whether I should call them – not to tell them I was leaving – but to communicate just how much I RESENTED calling.

Then I forgot all about it.

When I returned to the house that evening, there was a card on the door informing me that I had not been in the house, and that I should call Emrill to reschedule.

It took me a week to summon the energy. Finally, one morning, I was feeling up to it. The sun was shining, the birds singing, I’d slept well. My coffee was just strong enough to be peppy without burning my eyes.

Me: Hi, I’d like to reschedule a maintenance appointment.

CC: <in thick accent> Job number.

Me: Sorry- did you say job number? Right. <reading off the card> S-

CC: <thicker than three day old custard> S-P-R-B-D-F

Me: What? Sorry, the card only says S-6249.

CC: <big sigh demonstrating superior lung capacity> The full job number is SPRBDF-6249.

Me: Ok, that’s nice.

CC: The man, he went to your house. But there was nobody there-

Me: Yes, and I’m really terribly sorry about that.

CC: Oh dear, oh dear. The job, it is very old.

Me: Well, I logged it last week.

CC: Very old. I will have to be making the new job card.

Me: Yanno, WHATEVER.

CC: I am making new card. What is the problem, Madam?

Me: Same problem I reported last week.

CC: What is this?

Me: Is it not on the old job card?

CC: <silence>

Me: Ok, the water pump is broken.

CC: What is wrong with it?

Me: It’s BROKEN! If it was <expletive deleted> WORKING, I wouldn’t be CALLING YOU, WOULD I?

CC: Is there someone being in your house?

Me: Indeed, I will sit around all day on the off chance that someone from Emrill might grace me with a visit at any moment hereby unspecified.

CC: I am thanking you for your call, Madam.

Me: Gnrnragh!

This time, my buttocks were so clenched I couldn’t get up off the chair. I banged my head off the table for a while in a futile attempt to relieve frustration. In the end, the only thing to do was call Emrill back.

Me: Hello, I’d like to CANCEL job number SPRBDF-6260.

CC: What is the job number?

Me: S. P. R. B. D. F. Siix. Twooo. Siiiix. Zeeroooo.

CC: So, you logged this yesterday-

Me: This morning.

CC: No, you logged it yesterday.

Me: You know, I remember quite well when I logged it, because it was only five minutes ago-

CC: No, the date on the card is twelve November.

Me: I think you will find, with a bit of research and some relatively untaxing powers of deduction, that today is twelfth November.

CC: Is it?

Me: DOES IT REALLY MATTER WHAT DATE THE CALL WAS LOGGED? I JUST WANT TO CANCEL THE JOB WITHOUT LOSING MY MIND!!!!!!!!!!!!

CC: Ok, the job is cancel.

Me: Do you want to know WHY I’m cancelling a job I logged five minutes ago?

CC: No.

Me: Well, I’m going to tell you anyway! So there! It’s because Emrill is rubbish! I hope the quality of maintenance is better than the level of customer service, because if not, there are a whole bunch of houses that will probably collapse into a whole pile of rubble after your maintenance men visit! So far, I have found Emrill’s customer care to be possibly the most tragically awful, uninformative, apathetic, enraging bunch – which is saying something in a country hardly renowned for its customer relations!

CC: <silence>

Me: Ok, bye.

The Great Escape

So this is the year we finally leave Dubai. In the same way that a cross-dressing 70s swingers Tupperware party seems like a splendid idea three weeks in advance, the time to make good on the lip service now approaches like a swarm of killer termites.

For so long I’ve talked about leaving the Middle East ‘in 2007’, but you know, it was YEARS away. I would say: ‘I’m not spending a decade in this place,’ but then I’d only been here a couple of years. Maybe three, or was it four and a bit?

Now 2007 is upon us; our departure is imminent; and I’m absolutely terrified.

It’s hard to believe that nine years ago a 25 year old Me rocked up in the UAE toting a family sized bottle of SPF 370, a rucksack and a truckload of enthusiasm. I was so green about the gills people occasionally thought I was afflicted with mould. The world was my oyster.

In fairness, I totally underestimated the effort it would take to digest said oyster. People tried to warn me. They said, ‘but you’re leaving all your friends!’ I’d respond, ‘Meh. Friends come and go. I’ll make new ones. People are interchangeable.’ [Of course, I was wrong: people AREN’T interchangeable, as I discovered when I tried to find another hairdresser.]

The loneliness nearly killed me – seriously, one day I actually had to run away from The Light. I’d failed to anticipate the sheer exhaustion of setting up home in a new country: making friends, settling into a new job with 6-day working week, buying a car, finding and furnishing an apartment. It was a phenomenal shock to the system.

So in theory, moving to NZ should be easy. After all, I’ve had two practice runs (three, if you count the time I moved to Dublin to live with the nuns). Since I’m not doing it alone, there is not the same imperative to bribe strangers to be my friend. Husband will share the workload of wrapping up our life and tying up the loose ends. Should I be crushed in a freak accident involving a van, a leather sofa and a burly mover called Hamish, Husband can alert the ambulance services (i.e. less risk).

Yet it doesn’t matter how many pep talks I give myself in the bathroom mirror: I’m still dreading it.

Much as I despise the place, I have lived in Dubai for over a quarter of my life. As I get older I find that I like routine (next I’ll be preceding sentences with ‘in my day’ and taking up gardening) (last week I changed my computer accessibility options to ‘disabled’ for the bigger fonts) (at least give me credit for knowing where to locate the Accessibility tab). I like knowing exactly where to find pickled peanuts in Spinneys, cycling to The Lime Tree for my soy latte, playing tennis with Husband in the evening, or cooking dinner in my kitchen. Also, this is where Husband and I met and, for better or worse, it is our home. We have been so happy here.

But whereas before, moving halfway around the world was a madcap screwball adventure, now it is a tedious chore fraught with anxiety. When I think of the preparation that needs to be done – getting our affairs in order (and I’d like to know: exactly when did we become equipped with AFFAIRS? We’re too young to have affairs!) – I feel quite panicky.

There is not much I will miss about this city, but those things include: the beach in the mornings, swimming in The Gulf, the muezzin call to prayer, barbeques in the garden, sunshine in winter, and most importantly (not to make the same mistake again) our friends.

And yet I will not miss the smog, the roads, Ramadan, the transient nature of this place, the casual discrimination that passes as normal, the disregard for human life, the hypocrisy, the summer, the cockroaches, the way every little bit of emotion and kindness is censored while gore-smeared violence is presented in all its glory.

According to weight, the bad far outweighs the good. I am sure we will settle into NZ and wonder why we waited so long. But I’ll be sure to spend the interim fretting about it

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