H is for Hint / Help

Solitaire’s the only game in town – and this version offers hints for moves you might not have spotted. When you’ve moved everything you can see to move,  you press H for hint and the game may suggest a move you hadn’t seen. It isn’t always the best move, to be honest. But sometimes it was a really obvious move and you simply hadn’t spotted it.

That’s what my life needs. H for hint.

Show me a move I hadn’t spotted.

Please.

Because right now, the game I’m in, I don’t think it’s going to come out, and life doesn’t offer too many ‘undo last move’ options. Replay this game, or start over? Hah.

You see the hand. Looking pretty good. There’s a promising run building up there, and a couple of wins already in the bag, and a few cards sitting red on black or black on red which could be whisked away. It looks like it should work out, but everything depends on the next deal, the last deal.

No way of controlling the deal, that’s a given. But is everything set up as well as it could be to cope with whatever the last hand brings?

My life needs Hints.

(Turned out, this game worked. The black ace didn’t deal itself straight onto the last row, but there was a black ace, a move here, a switch there, shunt those cards to there, and YUP, game swiftly sorted after that. Do I take that as an omen? A – hint?)

I’m going to get an offer for my house – could be today, could take a month, but I know it is imminent. That will be the next hand dealt in my life. I have no idea how to play it. I’m overwhelmed with options, more accurately I have no idea how I should play it.

Press H

Don’t know where, don’t know when – theoretically Spain –

Limbo … my office closed at the end of April, making us all redundant, and I have a tiny financial cushion while I look for another job – but what kind of job? Temporary, short-term, massive pay, would probably be best because my house is on the market.

If it doesn’t sell, I have to find something permanent (massive pay would continue to be a bonsella) or sell a lot more books to keep the bulldog in the extremely expensive food she has to have because of her pink skin problems.

It may not sell.  My small town on the Firth of Forth is lovely, but short on public transport and therefore not in brisk demand. Scotland generally is unsettled, due to La Sturgeon’s ongoing determination to cut us adrift.  Investors are leaving, not buying, and my erstwhile employers are far from the only national company quietly moving operations down south. These are not ideal selling conditions.

If it does sell, though – hmmm. Spain? There’s an enormous townhouse there, in a lovely little town perfectly positioned for quiet tourists, which would convert into four holiday apartments plus a flatlet for me (I did say enormous!)  Right now, it’s a white elephant of note. Weeds are waist high in the terrace, two of the ceilings are sagging in the most alarming manner, and plaster doesn’t so much flake off the walls as fall off in sizeable chunks. That does mean it is affordable, and it has location location location in Velez: Costa Tropical beaches fifteen minutes away in one direction, spectacular Granada half an hour away in the other, and the ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada beyond that.  I’m about to list some of alarming photos and videos on the house’s Facebook page.  I took my daughter to see it last weekend. She thinks I’m demented. You’ll doubtless agree.

Fair enough. If I achieve everything I want to achieve with it, I’ll look back on the photos and videos I’ve taken and will be pretty astonished myself that I bought it, but that’s in limbo too. Demented I may be, but not to the point of buying it without a structural survey. I saw the house on Valentine Eve, fell in love with its shabby charm and potential, and requested said survey. We are now, hmm, 10th day of May. In theory the survey, promised almost on a weekly basis, is booked at last, for the 19th. Then, and only then, can I make an offer and of course in the meantime anyone could buy it from under my nose.  That would be fun, especially if my house sold at the same time.  Oops. Nowhere to live, and nowhere to go.

The thing is, if this house doesn’t sell, I have fourteen years of mortgage still to clear. Fourteen years! That takes me past retirement age no matter how often our caring government moves the goalposts. I’m not even sure I have fourteen years of life left, and I know for an absolute fact I don’t have fourteen years of Indian summer, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t want to spend those years working to pay a mortgage. The elefante blanco would be bought cash, and although it would never provide enough income to live on, it could reasonably be expected to cover its own upkeep and maintenance. That’s incredibly tempting, a self-sustaining home, erratic flow of visitors, a better lifestyle generally that even costs less. I adore Scotland, but the winds do seem to be blowing.

I’ve let chance and circumstance run my life for nearly twenty years now, and no regrets, not one. Being a straw in the wind brought me to the UK, then to Scotland, into this house, and into writing those books you see in the margin. (Are you up to date on the books? There’s a new one out, and one coming up and about to go on pre-order, make a note in your diary.)

grin

I blew off to Europe increasingly often to meet eclectic members of the singles website I joined to research some of the books. One resulting friend lives near Velez – straws that blew me to the door of #21 Calle de Martires. It feels right. It feels terrifying, at the same time. A stray breeze blew an email from a TEFL college into my mailbox, so I signed up to do a TEFL course – teach English as a foreign language – towards the future, and am enjoying bending my brain. Learning Spanish I’ll leave until when (if) I get there – courses are regularly offered for free either in Velez or a nearby town, and I’d get to meet other newcomers learning Spanish, win win.

Right now, the straws are hanging motionless, and I’m waiting for the wind to pick up again.

There’s a house viewing booked for tomorrow, only the third since I listed the house.  A brief breeze, which will drop again, or the start of a strong driving wind – who knows? Not a clue.

I need a windsock.

Walking the dog – a musing blog, not making any point whatsoever. Pass quietly by.

I was tugging a little impatiently on the dog’s lead today on the walk – definite nip in the breeze, lots to do back home – when I had one of those epiphany moments which for all I know she had beamed straight into my head.

To me – an item to be ticked off my day’s list, sandwiched in between laundry and writing and finishing the design of the bookmarks and and AND

To her – the highlight of her day. Oh, she likes eating, very much, and sleeping is good, and charging through the dog flap into the back garden to squabble through the fence with the westie which passes every morning on its walk and the border collie every afternoon, that’s high on her list – but her walk is the cherry on top. That’s when she checks out her little world from corner to corner.

There’s a set ritual to the whole thing. She has to be on the lead for crossing the road, and until I can be sure we’re good to go. She pulls as far ahead as it will allow, in her impatience, then stops to check some enthralling smell I can’t begin to imagine. Then she charges past me again to lead the way to the next smell. Progress is – jerky.

Once I can see far enough in every direction to be sure the westie, the collie, or any other dogs, are nowhere to be seen, the lead can come off, and she’s free to roam. It isn’t the longest walk, because she’s portly by breed, and getting elderly now (I’m not in the first flush of youth myself).  At some point known only to herself, slightly different every day, her fascination with every clump of grass is sated and stage three – the ball-throwing – follows. There’s no more sniffing around, this is serious stuff, the charge followed by a canter back with stately dignity to demand the next throw. Eventually we reach a point where she’s breathing hard and decides she’ll just carry it now, thanks, and we turn for the walk home.

Nothing fancy – but it means so much to her that I felt thoroughly guilty about the tugging. Maybe if I followed her example? Perish the thought I’ll start snuffling around the same spots, that would be eccentric and I don’t have the nose for it anyway, but I resolved to enjoy it, chilly wind notwithstanding.

Actually, pretty nice out there, what with it being spring and all – Scotland is always a little late to spring but some utter genius  in the town council has turned whole swathes of land over to wildflowers, which are starting to build up their energies. The Firth is always beautiful, in every mood, and the foreshore is so vast that we mostly have it to ourselves. You’re reading this on my website, right? Look at the picture at the top. Just been there.

It was a good walk.

Totally loca

I spotted P, almost inevitably, on line – I mean you know me, cruising the websites, self-proclaimed champion of the autumn rose, the mature single woman –

Well, I don’t mind saying I did a double-take. Wow.  I laughed out loud. I looked again. I read the provided description greedily. I sent the link to my buddy in Spain, mourning the lack of photographs, there were only four. Lovely buddy in Spain promptly found P on another website and sent back 20 photos.

Oh

My

Word

P is gorgeous. Older than I’d normally have gone for, must be said, and absolutely crying out for some TLC, but “wow” factor second to none.

I sent a message email immediately and a hectic exchange of emails followed and, since I was about to visit lovely buddy in Spain, a meet was set up. I could hardly wait – and it was as good as I had hoped, better.  This was love across a, well, must be said, totally empty atrium, but at first sight.

Hard to know what P makes of it all, of course, since P is a large 200-hundred-year-old traditional Spanish townhouse, standing forlornly empty in a narrow re-paved street in the heart of a town stretching back to Moorish influence , between and opposite very beautifully refurbished houses. The P is short for Palabras – Casa de Palabras, House Of Words – because as I wandered starry-eyed through room after room (many of them leading only into each other) (Spanish houses mix up the generations and who needs privacy when you share with family?) the peeling flaking plaster faded away, the spacious empty rooms furnished themselves and P turned into a creative retreat for writers, artists, kindred souls. The faded tiles bloomed again and the hand-painted vivid green ones became more of a feature, less of an eye-sore. The weeds pushing through the cracks in the terrace modestly vanished.

Out of the twelve existing rooms (one a smokehouse for Spanish hams because, you know, every house needs one) my private quarters appeared, and four guest-house suites built themselves in my mind’s eye. Lovely buddy was a building contractor before taking early retirement in Spain and cautiously poked, prodded, frowned, shrugged, and said the house would outlast me and yes, my plans would work. So what if six of the rooms lead only into each other? Two would convert easily into bathrooms behind dividing walls creating short passage-ways. The only rotting roof timber wasn’t a support beam, so it was easily replaced. The dream could be . . .

Before I took my leave, that first time, my legs a little shaky with shock, I had nearly exploded my camera’s memory with hundreds of photographs.

I’ve fallen in love a couple of times over the years but nothing like this. Wow.

I’ll tag these blogs ‘Palabras’ so they can be followed, or avoided, but – could it be forever? Have I the energy, the sheer passion, to follow through? Hell yes. Structural surveys are happening. Currency brokers have been appointed. Future plans for earning a living (I’ll be happy if the guest-house suites support Palabras itself, anything extra would be a cherry on top) are fizzing. Baby steps are being taken when I want giant strides, but inch by inch life with P moves a little nearer.

Yeah, having read this far you probably want a photograph. Thing is, I saw with the eyes of love and fervent imagination. Believe me, I’m already taking some flak. You should just hear my very sensible daughter on the subject.  You’ll see faded and forlorn and what-on-earth-house has windows into its own atrium? But I did set up a Facebook page and I am likely to be a bit of a bore over the next few months.

Oh, and I need to sell my house in Scotland. Now. You want a compact two bedroomed townhouse with small west-facing courtyard, about as unlike Palabras as can be imagined? Call me.

Immigrant gets passport *PHEW*

Second try, and I sent in an accompanying letter which would have made a cat cry. I did get a colleague to read it first to make sure it wouldn’t put backs up, and she howled with laughter, then said oh hell pass me a hanky, but overall verdict, no hackles. And in fact, bless you at the passport office, the second application  was accepted, I got it in a week, so thank you thank you.

For those who don’t slavishly read my blogs (why not?) my original passport was stolen a couple of months ago and what I assumed would be pretty straightforward turned into a bit of a mission.  I got nervous. You see, I’m an immigrant. Uh oh. Controls kicking in already?  My parents kept their British citizenship when they moved to Africa but they DID move to Africa and I was born there, raised there, schooled there, married and divorced there, and in fact decidedly middle-aged when I moved here.  So all this anti-immigrant talk makes me a little nervous. I may have the passport (thank you thank you) and may have been registered as a British citizen from birth, but when it comes down to it I talk funny and there is a little eyeing askance when I am competing with locals for jobs.

It goes both ways, you know. My parents lived in Africa as Brits, keeping their citizenship (lucky for me), their religion, their diet, their lifestyle. Most of their friends were other Brits. They celebrated Christmas at the height of summer in the southern hemisphere with fake snow, eating roast turkey with bread sauce even as the sweat dripped off their noses, and to the end of their lives they referred to the UK as home. It was resented by locals who felt they should fit in, adapt, become Saffers.

So when I hear resentment now about people bringing their traditions, their religion, their diet, their lifestyle and not rushing to adapt – well – give it time. A generation or two. Brits abroad don’t change instantly, or indeed at all. Cut immigrants a little slack. We’ll get there. We do want to fit in, we do want to be here but we are different and we always will be.

I also should say that starting over when you are middle-aged and already had a pretty nice life is not a case of waltzing in, looking round, and grabbing all the goodies. I arrived in 2000 with  a trunk, an aunt able to put me up very briefly in her retirement village, and £1000 in my bank account. I’m luckier than some immigrants in that English is my home language, albeit every time I open my mouth people still instantly ask ‘where are you from?’ which doesn’t get old at ALL. I found a temp job typing and opening mail at a local council within two days of my arrival. The pay was lousy, and the job boring, but it was pay and a job, and on the strength of it I spent my £1000 on a very elderly car which refused to do more than 40 mph, and paid the double deposit and rent of a cheap flat in a seriously crummy area.

Within 6 weeks I found a slightly better paid job with a call centre. Then I was offered a maternity cover job doing real admin with a national company, which wasn’t as well paid as the call centre but would put me back on the path where I wanted to be. It did – it was extended past the return of the mum because I was doing an internal audit. The next job started as a 6 month contract and lasted 10 years. It gave me a learning curve, a credit rating, a mortgage, a decent car and a future but it started as a junior credit control position.

My daughter finished school and came over to the UK to study. When she had her degree  in business studies she took an immediate job opening post (the apple didn’t fall far from that tree) in a hiring agency. Two years down the line she had a good job with an international company, which will give her the final experience she needs to land her dream job. Some of the friends she’d made at Uni who graduated at the same time were still sitting at home waiting for the dream job to pop through the letter box. Some were even a little resentful that she, an immigrant with an accent, had beaten them to the good job. Well, now you know how.

Immigrants don’t expect everything on a plate. Chancers, sure, will try to milk the system but there actually aren’t that many of them. Most of us are trying to start over because the life we had before isn’t an option any more. We are truly grateful for the opportunity for a new life, and we will work our butts off to make the best of the opportunity.

It’s a funny old world, and who knows where the next bend of the road will take us?

Anyway, thanks for reading this.

 

 

 

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Passport whinges – part two. No wonder Brexit. The passport office HATES travel.

Dear Mr Johnson

A few weeks ago my passport was stolen in Germany and I thought the difficulties I had getting home were bad enough.  Turns out it isn’t just the Foreign Office which is dedicated to making life’s little travel document issues close to unbearable. (Have you removed that chilly passive-aggressive utterly unhelpful piece of human snot from Dusseldorf yet? He really isn’t suited to life in the Diplomatic Corps. If his attitude towards British citizens is anything to go by he really should not be dealing with people from any other country.)

That’s by the by. If you aren’t the right person for this query perhaps you would be kind enough to forward this message to the correct office.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn I could apply on line for my passport, because we all know Big Brother is watching everything we do and every detail of our lives is available on request to those in power who feel they need to know.  All those census forms, driving licence details, every remotely official document I’ve ever had to fill in, job applications for anything remotely government related, and, of course, every passport I’ve ever had.

Any chance this wealth of information be shared with the Passport Office?

Perhaps I was being tested. Sure, I know my father’s name although these days that may not be an easy question for some and should probably be removed from the form so as not to offend. His place of birth – hmm, that was 103 years ago, but I think I got that right. Fairly sure of my mother’s, too.

No, I don’t know his passport number. I think it has expired, to be honest, he’s been dead well over ten years and wasn’t doing a lot of travelling towards the end.

If either parent was alive I would ask, with tears of frustration in my eyes, why they chose to be living in another country at the time of my birth. I’m sure they didn’t intend to cause me lifelong problems with bureaucracy. They did their best, to be fair. Registered my birth at Somerset House, and put me on my mother’s British passport before my eyes had even opened. In fact I’ve had a British passport ever since.  That’s been quite a few over the decades. Big Brother presumably knows that, but the Passport Office doesn’t store any details.

Anyway, I filled in the application, paid on line and received an email attachment for the counter-signatory information. Eight pages, each helpfully marked 1 of 8, 2 of 8, all the way to 8 of 8. Careful instructions to the counter-signatory as to what to do and how to complete the counter-signatory form but – no counter-signatory form.

So I rang. Now I am not one to complain about the rising tide of immigrants, because let’s face it, to purists I am one myself. However I think it might, just a suggestion, be nice to employ actual English-born,  English-speaking, staff on the phones?  Just saying.  As it happened the various immigrants I spoke to (I had to call a couple of times) did try to be helpful, which is more than could be said for the actual English-born, English-speaking person I finally reached, who might be related to the non-diplomat in Dusseldorf, and certainly went to the same charm school.  I was told there’s a queue. Of course there is. This is Britain. There’s always a queue. They couldn’t possibly email me the corrected form (even though it was an online application and they had emailed me the incorrect one) but within 72 hours they would post it to me.

That caused another problem, because you don’t accept the word of just anyone on photograph likeness, do you? Doctors aren’t acceptable unless they are personal friends as well. I was a little depressed to realize how few professional people I had known for two years that I was still in contact with. They’ve retired and as often as not taken their retirement pounds abroad to friendlier climates and cheaper lifestyles. Still, my dentist had agreed to do the honours, which was very good of her since I’m not allowed to show her handiwork in the photo, but was off on holiday within the 72 hours.  I know you say not to book a holiday until you have a passport but mine was stolen and I had already booked a holiday before it was stolen. I really didn’t want to wait until she got back, because tick tock, time is fleeting.

Well, I could go on, and on, and on, but as I still don’t have my passport I will keep the rest of the saga to part three. I suspect it will be even longer than part two, and more indignant.

No wonder Brexit. It is quite obvious, Mr Johnson, that your department disapproves completely of travel and want to make it as difficult as possible.

I just became a suicide blonde, dyed by my own hand. Okay, medium-blonde-copper-pearl.

I have a friend, Edge Cameron, who is slim, attractive, talented, funny, financially comfortable, and in a relationship with a man she adores, who loves her. Well, I call her a friend. Sometimes I resent her a bit. Even though I invented her.

There are times I find myself, almost to my own indignation, copying her.  She joined a singles website, so did I. She has shoulder-long thick red-blonde hair, I grew mine and if anyone can tell me how to thicken it, that would be lovely, ta. And because we’re both autumn roses, the colour isn’t as robust as it once was. She has hers expertly streaked by an expensive hairdresser (see financially comfortable, above).  Mine is streaked with, well, I called them blonde threads.

Very, very blonde.

Okay! silver.

And the streaks, from being occasional threads, have been a bit invasive lately. In direct sunshine, I’m rather less strawberry and rather more blonde. Fortunately there’s not been much direct sunshine in Scotland this year (sigh) but still. See for yourself –

thoughtful cropped

So I ordered that colouring stuff which is personalised for your exact hair colour (medium blonde copper pearl, said the expert) and it arrived during the week and I just used it and it has gently returned to where it should be.  Not a flat colour, still naturally varied, less silver, YAY!

Oh, I know I will be silver soon enough and I’m genuinely okay with that but there’s two more books in the series still to write,  and I am damned if I am going to slave over a hot keyboard with silvering hair letting Edge look younger than me while I do it.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

BTW, that marketing thing I’m rubbish at, I should probably mention that Fifteen Sixteen Maids In The Kitchen is imminent. In a week. I should be working on that rather than playing with my hair.

Now that I’m rejuvenated, I’ll get straight onto it.