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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.

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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.

Dendrophiliacs

The main reason Husband returned to Dubai so soon after his last trip was to prepare our property for re-renting. He asked if I would like to accompany him. Optimistically, he presented it as a mini-vacation. He went for the beaches and palm trees angle.

I was more focussed on the 22-hour flight with two stopovers, the skin melting temperatures of the UAE hitting summer, and sleeping on the floor of an empty villa without even an espresso machine. Fairly quickly – you might say spontaneously – I realised there was nothing I would like to do less, except maybe hack off my lower limbs with a blunt axe. Even then, it would depend on how blunt said axe was, and whether I had ready access to Tequila.

Compared to the above, my contribution to the whole process was meagre. I sourced potential tenants, arranged finances, retained a maintenance company and collated paperwork. I was so delighted NOT going to the UAE that staying here with my dog was like a vacation in itself (if you disregard the guilt).

I was particularly glad when Husband described the state in which Tenants had left the villa. Thankfully most of it was cosmetic damage: gashes and chips out of the plaster, nails all over the show, double sided sticky tape festooning three walls, bolts in the master bedroom wall from a badly mounted TV. Husband also said it looked like someone had hit the trunk of the tree with the edge of a spade (who? Who does that to a poor, innocent, defenceless tree? Sickening dendrophile).

Ah, the bitter ruins of a formerly loving relationship.

But then, how was I to know they were dendrophiles?

Tenants had left without cleaning the house. This particularly distressed me, since I spent three days scouring the place before they moved in. I recall Mrs Tenant calling unexpectedly to discover me straddling a kitchen cupboard. She said:-

“Oh, you’re- are you cleaning?” And before I could say, NO THE RUBBER GLOVES ARE MY OWN DISTINCTIVE FASHION STATEMENT AND I ALWAYS PUT JIFF IN MY <EXPLETIVE DELETED> HAIR, she continued, “It’s not on our account, is it?”

I unclenched my tongue from between my teeth to say, “Well, yes-”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “We’re only going to clean it again after our stuff arrives.”

“Well ok, but, you know, we’re talking about two and a half years worth of Husband’s and my dead skin cells,” I said with an involuntary wince. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine leaving an abode other than spotlessly glistening (in a totally non-mucous context); I mean, I would be pure MORTIFIED. I guarantee that, when the time comes, we will leave our current rental accommodation cleaner than it has been at any point during our occupancy.

“Oh,” she said. “Um, yes, well. Carry on then.”

I suppose I had been warned. Tenants had no compunction about leaving 18 months of their dead skin cells cluttering up the place.

Husband spent hours plastering, cleaning and fixing. Yet apparently, Mr Tenant got terribly upset when Husband pointed out the condition the house was in. There were Words.

Bad ones.

At least this atones for Husband stinging me for cleaning the villa the week before we left Dubai.

Nah only messing; nothing makes up for that. I will carry that grudge to my deathbed AND BEYOND.

However, he has earned himself several nag-free months featuring kinky sex on demand.

I am so overwhelmed by his input I might even provide the sex myself.

Balls the Subway franchise can be proud of

Although we signed the rental papers in early February, until recently we were still living with The Outlaws. The female component of our landlords, Ingrid, was sympathetic to our request to paint the house, so we intended to do so while waiting for our shipment.

At this stage, I was having second thoughts about the whole painting proposal. The yellow and pink had grown on me – admittedly, in similar manner to mould or fungus – but I had adjusted to the colour scheme. However, Husband was adamant.

“I’m not living in a yellow and pink house,” he announced.

“But Husband, we’re only renting; we have no idea how long we’ll live there. And have you any idea what paint costs? Well no, me neither; but we should probably look into it. And it’s a huge job – how long will it take?”

“Eh, few days. Hey! – do you think we should get a spray gun?”

Ingrid donated NZ$ 750 towards paint, which eliminated one argument. The Bro and the dog came to help the first day of painting. Kayla was of limited assistance – in fact, six weeks later we’re still picking dog hair out of the paint. The Bro was impressed with the laundry chute extending from the top of the house to the washing machine in the garage.

“There’s an access door on the floor below as well,” I said.

“Hey – is Husband in the garage?” The Bro stuck his head in the chute opening and breathed: “I’m watching you!”, accompanied by several variations of evil laugh.

It was pretty funny – but not half as much as when his retro Top Gun style limited edition Ray Bans flew off his head and straight down the chute.

For the rest of the day, The Bro rollered the ceilings. When he wasn’t splattering the carpet, he dripped paint in his eyes:

“Ow! Dammit!”

“If you did it properly, there wouldn’t be drips,” I said; then, after a pause: “Did you just roll your eyes at me?”

“YES!”

“Not much wrong with them then, is there? . . . See? Perfect working condition.”

At the time I was on crutches – oh, the crutches? Right, yes. I pulled a calf muscle playing squash with The Bro. My mother had warned me about him:- “Niamh, that boy is too young for you!” and I could hear her mouth pursing down the phone.

“Mum, I’m playing squash with him, not DATING him,” I said. “And by the way, you do know I’m married to his BROTHER?”

“You know what I mean,” she said darkly. “He’s half your age-“

“He’s 26!”

“I thought he was 17?”

“No!”

“Still. He’ll run the arse off you. It’ll come to no good.”

I think she put a maternal hex on me, because the next time I played The Bro I pulled a muscle one game in. It was severe enough to make me think, “Oh, shite” at full mental volume – when I wasn’t thinking: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! OW! OW! OW! DID I SAY OOOOOWWWWW!”

The Bro felt sufficiently guilty to get me an ice pack and compression bandage, and lectured me at length about RICE and how my leg wasn’t above my head in that position and how talking was liable to impair recovery. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel guilty enough to provide on-call margharita.

Three days later I still couldn’t put weight on my left leg, and was getting by with a grunt-powered hop. This was fine for short distances eg from the sofa to the TV or the living room to the fridge. However, it was impossible to perform an effective headless chicken routine on one leg. I leased a pair of crutches for a week since Husband was completely unsupportive.

“Come on – what’s keeping you?” he’d say, five paces ahead.

“I’m ON! CRUTCHES!”

“Oh, yes. Can’t you go any faster?”

“Why don’t you come over here and I’ll show you another use for a crutch.”

So, that’s how I came to be crippled. As lunchtime approached, I was sent to hunt and gather for The Painting Men. Spotting a Subway outlet halfway to Henderson, I figured that would take care of half the lunch menu. I ordered Husband a 6” Meatball Marinara Sub.

“Excuse me,” I said as the attendant put away his ladle. “Would you mind adding another meatball?”

“That will cost $1.50.”

“You what? For one ball?”

“If you want more meatballs, there’s an additional charge.”

“I see. Let me make sure I understand: the number of meatballs per 6” Meatball Sub is four, is it?”

“Er, I suppose so.”

“Not three meatballs?”

“Um, no.”

“Not five meatballs?”

“No,” he said, more confident now he was on firmer ground. “If you want more meatballs, there is an additional charge-”

“Yes, I got it. Ok, I won’t take the additional meatballs, but can you remove those two half meatballs and replace them with big balls please?”

“What?”

“Well, if I understand you correctly, a 6” Meatball Sub should feature 4 meatballs. Presently there are two full meatballs and two half balls, which adds up to three meatballs. I want my fourth meatball.”

“I-”

“Please remove those tragically pathetic excuses for meatballs, and show me balls the Subway franchise can be proud of.”

It’s been a while since I patronised Subway, and I can’t say I was impressed with the service – or the produce.

“You know, I’m not sure those can technically be called ‘meatballs’,” I said, as the attendant slapped another meatball in the sandwich (at least he couldn’t spit in it since I was watching). “Really, they’re better described as large pieces of mince. Does Subway have a complaints procedure?”

Afterwards, I spent three hours driving around Henderson trying to hunt down some booze. When I first arrived, I was under the impression you could buy alcohol everywhere here: grocery shops, doctor’s waiting rooms, school canteens, the local AA centre. Free bottle of wine with every packet of peanuts purchased! Beer vending machines on every street corner!

Apparently, not so much. Eventually, I stumbled across King Dick’s Liquor up a shady alley. After all that effort – and time – The Men were disgusted when I arrived back with a six-pack of Steinlager Light. The Bro threatened to go on strike. It took all my diplomatic skill, three lowfat turkey Subs and half my sushi to persuade him to stay

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.”

Just hyperventilating

Although we had agreed to leave the Middle East at the end of 2007, realistically we were looking at January, possibly February 2008. When I was in Ireland, Husband rang me one night to give me a pep talk on stress management:

“Niamhie, I know we said the end of the year, but does it matter whether it’s January or February, or even March? Or April?”

“Husband. We’re leaving in December.”

“Yes, but what I’m saying is, you’re going to get all worked up – you know, when things aren’t happening fast enough – and you should relax – take a chill pill! I mean, we know we’re leaving, so it doesn’t matter if the date slips a month or several. Does it?”

“You know what I’m stressed about right now? That my husband obviously does not know me AT ALL.”

“Niamhie?”

“Just hyperventilating.”

“You should breathe more.”

Shortly after Husband’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, we booked one-way flights to Auckland, departing Dubai on 24 December.

Originally, we planned to sell the Springs villa before the end of 2007. However, in early November the resale market was sluggish and we decided to rent the property.

The Tenants were the first people to view the house. Mr and Mrs Tenant were almost more anal than I am, so inevitably I fell instantly in love. When they were noncommittal, it was all I could do to stop myself dropping to my knees and begging them to move in rent-free.

Later the same day, Mr Tenant called and offered to take the house and asked for first option to buy. The deal felt profoundly karmic: The Tenants were being kicked out of their furnished villa on 20/12, which was the precise date Husband and I had agreed the house should be ready for occupancy. Then they bought our BBQ, fridge, oven, washing machine, wireless router and Husband’s motorbike.

The least I could do was invite them around for a barbeque. Mr and Mrs Tenant turned up accessorised with three children. The only tense moment was after the meal, when Mrs Tenant came into the kitchen to help load the dishwasher.

“You’re not one of those people who washes things before they put them in the dishwasher, are you?” she said.

“What, me?” I said. “NO! GOD no. Do people actually DO THAT? You’re joking. Scary to think there are nutsos like that roaming around in the world. Unsupervised. Must be a real worry when you have kids, is it?”

But later it was hard not to feel resentful as I washed and reloaded the dishes.

Shortly after signing the tenancy contract, with habitually spectacularly impeccable timing, Eid was announced to fall three days before The Tenants moved in on 20/12. As landlords, we were required to paint and clean the house, but we only had one day between the shippers and the Eid holiday. We realised we were going to have to clean the house ourselves.

On 15/12 Husband and I had painters falling over us as we conducted a final sort through our stuff. Husband didn’t take it well and there were Words. At least I didn’t have to go to the trouble of bursting into tears; at that stage I was crying pretty much permanently. On Sunday the shippers came and I wept through the entire ordeal. On Monday I finalised everything with The Tenants, closed our phone and Internet account with Du, went to DEWA (water and electricity) for our final bill, organised New Zealand dollars, picked up Husband’s motorbike engine from KTM, and picked up Husband from work.

As I drove him home, Husband told me he would have to work over some of Eid. Again, I didn’t throw a wobbler so much as simply ramp up the bawling to full-blown panic attack.

“You’re going to lee-hee-heave me with all the clea-hee-heaning!”

“Baby! Of course I won’t,” said Husband solicitously.

Instead, while I spent Tuesday and Wednesday scrubbing the house down, Husband fixed his motorbike in the back garden. It had been broken for six weeks. I’m telling you, THAT will feature in future arguments 🙂

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