Moment of Calm

The movers came back this afternoon and retrieved the empty boxes. Aside from re-homing a few things the owners left behind, and waiting for the dining table and rug we ordered to arrive, we’re “done moving.”

I can see how with practice, and discipline to not accumulate “stuff,” one could get good at moving. I’m not convinced it’s a skill I want to develop.

So this weekend will be a time to recharge before the inevitable goat-rodeo that is the US presidential election kicks into high gear next week.

Despite being largely disconnected from social media, I’ve been fairly inundated with encouragement to vote. Usually accompanied by a specious claim that the advice giver “doesn’t care who you vote for, just that you vote.”

Of course they care. They want you to vote for who they’re voting for.

Both sides are convinced it’ll be the end of the world if “the other side” wins.

Maybe one side is right. Maybe both sides are.

So I guess I’ll add my voice to the chorus.

If you’re eligible to do so, please vote.

Vote against kakistocracy. Against the normalization of lies. Against divisiveness. Against misogyny. Against xenophobia. Against kleptocracy. Against willful ignorance and sciolism.

Just over four years ago I was in Edinburgh, struggling to come to grips with the election, and wrote this.

I wonder what I’ll be writing this time.

And when the dust will have settled enough to write it.

Here Comes the Rain Again… and I Feel Fine

We listened to the wind drive rain against the windows most of last night. I’m happy to say it was running down the outside of the windows, which you might assume would be the case, but is something we haven’t taken for granted lately.

The move went reasonably well, all things considered.

Four guys from B Moved packed and shifted all our stuff down six flights of stairs (’cause of course the lift in the old building was still out of service) into two vans. It took a couple hours longer than anticipated, and I imagine those guys got more of a leg workout than they bargained for, but to their credit they were jovial to the very end.

I, on the other hand, was exhausted and grumpy just watching them.

They finished packing around noon, and started loading before taking a break for lunch. By 7pm the guys had all the boxes in the new flat (thanks to a working lift), had reassembled the sofa and our bed, and bid us farewell.

We walked to Seoul 90 for some KFC (Korean Fried Chicken, get it?) where our old neighbors totally coincidentally happened to wander in for a drink. We walked together back to the old flat, gathered the cats and the last of our belongings and accepted their generous offer of a lift to the new flat.

We setup the cat essentials, found the box with the bed linens (hiding in the hallway bathroom, well spotted Dawnise) and sluiced off the days grime before falling into bed.

Thursday and Friday were a marathon of unpacking and figuring out how to fit into the new space. Dawnise did a fantastic job getting the kitchen into shape. We got her sewing room and the office-slash-guest-room “setup-ish.” I even took a few work meetings in there, ’cause I didn’t have enough going on.

We spent some time last night dining table shopping – said thing being the only major bit of furniture we chose not negotiate to take from the previous flat – and found a rug we like to go under it.

This morning Dawnise made biscuits and gravy for breakfast, with sourdough biscuits some friends gave us as a housewarming gift.

After breakfast I made a “final” visit to the old flat – where the rain last night was clearly evident inside. I sent pictures of each room, and final electric and gas meter readings to the property manager, and tomorrow Dawnise will drop the keys off at the letting agents office and we’ll be done and done.

Until I let my irritation and sense of fair play get the better of me and hire a solicitor.

I’m not one to pick fights.  

On the other hand, I’m really not fond of being taken advantage of.

Purple Rain has a (Very) Long Outro: And Other Thoughts on Moving

We’re moving today, so of course the lift is out and there’s a heavy rain advisory for London and the South East.

The removers arrived roughly on time, which was a bit surprising given London traffic at the best of times, never mind the rain. Four guys, and two trucks, just narrow enough to fit into the parking courtyard at the ‘old place.’

I warned them in advance that the lift was broken, they didn’t seem too concerned. Nothing in this country actually works, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

Two guys started in the kitchen (as you do, kitchens take forever) and two guys started downstairs, on closets (clothes are easy to pack and move, but they’re heavy).

The cats have been imprisoned in the ‘not-leaky’ bedroom (not a phrase you ever want to need, trust me) and Dawnise and I are sitting on the sofa that’s not being moved, trying to stay out of the way.

The Echo Show in the kitchen is steaming music. Dawnise asked Alexa to ‘play 80’s radio,’ and the mix has been appropriately 80’s-tactic. The guys doing the kitchen asked to turn it up and have been humming along. Tears for Fears giving way to REO Speedwagon segueing into Prince and the Revolution.

And sitting here on the sofa, feeling useless as people labor around us, we were stuck by how ridiculously long the outro of Purple Rain actually is. Like minutes. And just when you think it’s over, it’s not. And if you’re running on empty, like we are, it becomes hilarious. And it’s all you can do to not giggle maniacally.

And then, as if on queue, one of the movers popped in and said ‘in case it matters, there’s water coming in in the bedroom.’

Yes.

Yes there is.

We Move on Wednesday, the Lift is Broken… Again.

The lease has been signed and counter-signed, the needed monies have been paid, we’re scheduled to get keys to the new apartment on Tuesday and the the removers have been booked for Wednesday.

So of course the lift in the building has gone out of service again this afternoon.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Everything about this has been more complicated than it needs be.

For example – for some reason, despite being in the UK where party-to-party bank transfers are de rigueur, Foxtons (the agency marketing and managing the apartment) preferred we pay the first months rent and deposit (typically 5 weeks of rent) by credit card.

The demand was slightly more than our available credit on our Amex, so I called Amex, who obligingly raised the limit. Then I used the Amex to pay Foxtons, and bank transferred the funds to Amex once the charge settled. I imagine Amex was happy to get a rather sizeable processing fee (from Foxtons), and I don’t object to the points.

In other news, we seem to have come to an almost reasonable outcome with our landlord. We’re moving out, and she’s waving the rent as of the date we requested to end our tenancy. We’re technically still on the lease over the required 60 day notice period, which I think is because she’s in a dispute with the block agent responsible for the roof, but I honestly don’t understand it. I know I have a release of my responsibility in writing from the landlords agent, so I’m reasonably confident I’m not being setup to be sucker-punched.

Of course the landlord (via her agency) and the building manger responsible for the roof are both pointing at each other as the party that should pay my moving costs. So it looks like if I want to collect that money, it’s going to involve hiring a solicitor and getting in the middle of their conflict. Which sounds like no fun at all.

The rational part of me knows that it’s not enough money to justify hiring legal representation and digging in for a fight that could easily take a year or more. Never mind figuring out how to actually collect if the judgement is in my favor.

The less rational part of me wants to hire the solicitor on a spoils-of-war basis – once I’ve recovered my losses and legal fees, the solicitor can keep whatever excess they recover. I suspect that their legal system won’t permit such shenanigans, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try.

Either way, that’s clearly a fight best not started until we’ve seen the back of this place.

So Monday morning I go sit the driving theory test, Tuesday we collect keys and attend the inventory (pre-move-in check) of the apartment, Wednesday we move, and Thursday we…

Actually, I dunno what we do on Thursday. Ask me on Wednesday.

At the moment I’d just like to get a good nights sleep – something that hasn’t happened since it started raining in our bedroom two weeks ago.

Oh, and that storm that rained in our bedroom? It was the UK’s wettest day on record. If it hadn’t rained in the bedroom before – and again since – I might be tempted to say it was a fluke.

But fluke or no, over two weeks later, with multiple reports of new evidence of water in each successive rain, neither my landlord, their agent, or the building manager has presented a plan for fixing the roof.

So it’s time to take my leave of this circus and these monkeys, ’cause as mentioned above – I think the monkeys are about to get into a legal tussle, which is basically the more “civilized” version of throwing poo at each other.

Hoovering While Rome Drips

I did the weekly hoovering today.

I felt more than a little ridiculous moving the catch basins while vacuuming the bedrooms.

Rearranging the proverbial deck chairs indeed.

It’s not rained steadily for a few days, so aside from the lingering smell of damp, the missing lights, and the bare bed frame, mattress propped along a wall, you might not notice anything amiss.

We looked at around a dozen places across two days, narrowed it to two that we thought we’d be happy living in, and have agreement in principle with the landlord of our first choice. If all goes to rapidly-evolving plan we’ll sign a lease by close of business Monday with a start date on or around the 19th. The new place is hundreds of yards, as the crow flies, from the old place. And because I’m not very smart, it too is on the top floor of a building and is reached by a lift.

What could go wrong?

On Friday we served formal notice to our current landlord by way of their agent that we wish to abruptly terminate our tenancy on a “mutually agreeable date” due to the ongoing and unresolved leak issues, and proposed 26 October. Under normal circumstance our lease would require sixty days notice, so it’s still possible that our landlord refuses to release us early and we end up paying for two more months.

I’m hopeful that she does the right thing and lets us out of the lease, but I’m not sure I’d put odds on it.

Similarly, we’re going to try to get some responsible party to pay for the move cost, but I’ve no plans to hold my breath. The landlord’s agent bluntly said to me at the landlord isn’t liable and pointed me at the block (building) manager, who I pointed out I have no legal relationship with. So I’ll push on the landlord, they’ll push on the building management, and I’ll end up paying for the move ’cause it won’t be worth chasing it in court.

That finger pointing likely foreshadows a rather protracted argument between our landlord and the building management over who’s fault this all is, and who pays to make it good. Since it involves the shared roof, that argument could easily expand to include all the other owners in the building.

It’s the sort of thing that might be educational to watch from a distance, but I’ve really no interest in being in the middle of it.

And while they’re arguing, water will be doing to this building what it does to buildings.  If they argue long enough, there will be no apartment left to argue about.

Dawnise is pretty sure that this problem was a result of both parties thinking it was the others’ responsibility. I suspect she’s right, and the fact that the bits of roof most affected are under terraces that “belong” to this apartment do seem to muddy the responsibility issue. I figure the building management will ultimately demand our landlord be responsible for taking up the decking on the terraces in advance of roof works.

The weather forecast for the next two weeks shows a few days of “proper rain.” Not as much as precipitated this crisis (see what I did there?) but enough that we’ll probably have more rain in the bedrooms.

So there’s that to look forward to.

All Change is Experienced as Loss

I think I’ll miss the bells the most.

We had a Catholic Church within earshot of our apartment in Luxembourg (to be fair, it’s a small country, and there were lots of churches). Over our time there the sound of church bells became a welcome accompaniment to our Sunday brunch. I didn’t realize how much I missed the sound of bells with coffee and breakfast until we moved in here and we could hear the bells at St. Paul’s.

Or, maybe, what I’ll miss most will be the view. London is a pretty flat city. The City has a good cluster of tall towers, and they certainly dot the rest of the city landscape, but you don’t need to get very high to get great views. Our apartment on the 5th and 6th floors (that’s the 6th and 7th, if you start from “1” instead of “ground”) has fantastic views. Off the “back” side is St. Paul’s, the tip of the Shard and Walkie Talkie, the Courts, and the London Eye. Off the “front” side are things less famous, but no less interesting. And the sky is never still, even when it’s grey.

I might realize what I most miss are the local restaurants. Trade – the best pastrami for my money I’ve had outside the north east US. Monohon where the shop and the ramen reminded me of one of the tiny places I wandered into in Tokyo. Mola, our weekend breakfast staple. The kebab shop on Old Street – nothing special, just tasty tasty calories – and I didn’t even have to say “avec sauce samouraï.” I’d say I’d miss the pubs, but to be honest I haven’t been into one in months – I barely remember what they’re like. And sadly they’re often “much of a muchness,” so I imagine wherever we end up, there will be more.

In the end, it might end up being that I most miss living in easy carry distance to a whopping great Waitrose in the middle of the city. Living here you can easily understand why Brits – and Londoners in particular – were so far ahead of the US in embracing online grocery shopping and delivery. Most people don’t have a “big” grocery store near them – and why would you carry your shopping home in your hand, or on your shoulder, when someone will courier it to your door?

I know for sure I’ll miss our neighbors, who we got to know a bit before the pandemic and have stayed in touch with during. They’re smart, interesting, lovely people who have been a pleasure to spend time with.

It really doesn’t matter what I’ll miss most. I’ll miss all that. And more. And things I haven’t even realized I had noticed.

We looked at some flats today – one of them we both liked and will make an offer on. That made it real for me.

We’re actually going to have to move out of our apartment and not return because building management essentially can’t fix the roof.

The primary job of a building is to keep the outside out, and the inside in – and this (part of) this one is no longer fit for purpose.

It’s raining in my bedrooms, there are water stains creeping down walls…

And yet… I’ll miss it.

Don’t Wait for the Important to Become Urgent

It’s been a hell of a weekend.

Lemme me explain.

No. There is too much. Lemme sum up.

We’re moving out of our apartment. We’re not sure exactly when we’re moving, or where we’re moving to yet, but it turns out by not fixing the roof during the dry weather – when they had the chance – the building management company lost any hope of keeping this apartment habitable.

Over the rains this weekend, leaking doors and a couple dripping lights turned into heavier leaks and more leaky lights, and a few spots of wet plasterboard became many spots, growing quickly. We disassembled the “not leaking yet” former-guest-bedroom-cum-office and turned it back into a bedroom.

A roofing contractor came out yesterday (on a Sunday, so you know that cost someone a pretty penny) – looked at the interior, went out onto the terraces and climbed onto the main roof in the dumping rain, and gave us his professional opinion:

“The building needs a new roof, all this decking has to be taken up to replace the roof under it, and to do any of this, it has to be dry.”

Of course the building management couldn’t take him at his word, so today a building surveyor came out, looked at all the same stuff (but did it in the dry) and gave his professional opinion.

“The building needs a new roof, all this decking has to be taken up to replace the roof under it, and to do any of this, it has to be dry.”

It won’t be dry enough, for long enough, for months.

So it’s time for us to beat a hasty retreat.

So we’re working on figuring out where we (two humans, two cats) can go in the short term while we look for a new place. We’ll be out looking at flats tomorrow afternoon and working through the logistics of getting our selves and our belongings moved out of an increasingly leaky flat. And figuring out who’s going to pay for it (hint: not us).

The owner of the apartment wil be left with an empty, decaying apartment. And unless they can find a way to at least stabalize the roof and contain water once we leave, the water will undoubetdly affect the units below us.

They’ve turned a medium sized problem into a huge problem by ignoring it.

Fixing the roof was important over the summer, but it wasn’t urgent. The pandemic certainly didn’t make roof work easy, but the building sites in view of our apartment kept working through most of the summer, so it was possible.

Now, thanks to waiting for the bad weather to return, fixing the roof is urgent and has become effectively impossible.

If this were my property, and I was a customer of the building management firm, I’d be lawyering up.

But it’s not my property, so my goal is to extricate us from this accelerating fluster-cluck.

Stay tuned.

It’s Raining in the Bedroom (there are no points for effort)

Our apartment is on the 5th and 6th floors of the building. Our kitchen and living space are directly under the building roof, and our bedrooms are under exterior terraces.

Last year, as the fall rains started, we had a couple leaks in the roof, including one that had water dripping out of an electric light fixture. We contacted the property manager, given how paranoid the Brits are about having electricity anywhere near the water in their bathrooms, pointed out this was probably a “health and safety” hazard, and that “we’ll have someone out in a few days” wasn’t sufficient.

They managed to find someone to come out that very day, he went up on the roof and did a temporary repair, and they painted over the damp plasterboard with an anti-mold paint.

“We’ll schedule a proper repair in the spring.”

I bet you already see where this is going.

Despite multiple building sites in sight of our building remaining active through most of lock-down, no “proper repair” works were scheduled. So yesterday, on the first “real” rainy day of the season, it was hardly surprising that it started raining in the bedroom.

Again.

We’ve got catch basins under the dripping light fixtures in two of the three bedrooms, and are once again invoking the well worn “health and safety” argument. It’s gotten us from “if I don’t have a date from the contractor by Monday I’ll contact an alternate” to “there will be an electrician out today and a roofing contractor out tomorrow morning.”

But getting what seems the obvious right thing to happen has taken far, far too much energy and angst.

And discussing our options and how to respond to this latest crisis has revealed a(nother) fundamental difference in world view between Dawnise and I.

To me, in a business context, you don’t get credit for effort. You get credit for results. Dawnise gives you points for trying.

I think it’s reprehensible that we teach children in the US that they’ll get “partial credit” for incorrect answers. As a teacher, partial credit is often used as an incentive to get students to “show their work.” By rewarding them for “thinking out loud” you have a better chance of understanding where they’re going wrong and correcting them. And that’s good.

But it doesn’t extend to the rest of life.

The property manager and building manager are being responsive, and seem to be trying to engage the right people and processes to solve this problem.

At the end of the day, I don’t care if they’re trying, I care if they’re succeeding.

P.S. The lift is still broken.

Set and Manage Expectations

Some years back (cough c.2001 cough) I was at a startup across a change of senior technical leadership. The CTO, who was and is a friend of mine, left and was replaced by someone chosen by the investors. The replacement was – to be a bit rude – mostly useless. Much more “chief” than “technical officer.”

This fellow – who I only worked with briefly, and who’s name I’ve long since forgotten – ended up imparting something I’ve only recognized the real value of over time.

His “thing” was the importance of setting and managing expectations. Not just for managers, for everyone.

If you were on the hook for something, he was insistent that you tell the dependant party when you expected to deliver. He was downright millitant that as soon as you realized your estimate was wrong – regardless of why it was wrong – you told anyone wo was depending on you.

If you couldn’t provide a new estimate, he insisted that you tell them when you would be providing that new estimate (a “date for a date”).

So if you were on the hook to deliver something by Friday, and on the preceeding Tuesday discovered additional work that put Friday at risk – he insisted you approach the party depending on your Friday deliverable on Tuesday and tell them your delivery was at risk. If you could give them a new date for delivery, great (“I think it’s going to take two more days, so I’ll be done next Tuesday”) and if you couldn’t, you needed to tell them when you’d come back with an estimate (“I’m not sure how big a disruption this is, I’ll get back to you by close of business tomorrow.”)

Acting this way gave people who depended on you options. They could look for ways to help you hit your your previous estimate (“if someone helped you with the thing that’s come up would that let us hit Friday?”). They could factor your change into their plans, and inform people who were waiting on them. If necessary, they could look for ways not to dependend on you.

Over time this “proactive transparency” would help the organization get better at estimation, and identify people and teams who weren’t getting better and figure out why and how to improve. Or at least that was the theory. The company ceased being a going concern not too long after.

This may all seem super obvious to anyone who started their career in software “post agile manifesto” but it certainly wasn’t representative of my experience in software up to that point. This was the first overt recognition I’d seen from “management” that plans change, and that how you handle that change is important.

Prior to that, dates were set in stone – and everyone pretended they never changed. (“So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.”) There was no accepted way to express that while hitting a target was always desirable, it wasn’t always possible. And by being up front about changes to your expected ability to deliver on commitments you could at least reduce the last minute negative surprise and resulting scramble.

This focus on setting and managing expectations extends far beyond software. I’ve been chasing the building manager about the lift for two days now. She can’t give me anything like an estimate because she doesn’t have one (isn’t demanding one) from the service company. If they had to provide one, they’d have to demand one from whomever they’re waiting on, and so on. It wouldn’t necessarily result in anything being fixed faster* but it just might make it harder to assume that everyone in the chain of responsibility is inept.

* Sometimes the need to tell someone you’re going to let them down incents you to find ways not to let them down, but that’s hard to take to the bank.

…And it doesn’t seem to bother anyone

We generally like our apartment, but the lift in our building is utter crap. It’s slow at the best of times, and it’s been incredibly unreliable since we moved in. We’ve taken to keeping track of outages in our shared calendar, and have a steady stream of often increasingly irritated iMessages between us and the building manager.

Lift engineers – from two different firms – have been out countless times. Each time they’re reasonably prompt, and each time they leave the lift “works” again. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for days – it even went a few weeks between failures during the height of lockdown when no one was using it.

It’s possible all they’ve done is hit it with a hammer.

They keep saying “engineering.” I don’ think it means what they think it means.

Today it went out of service with Dawnise in it on her way out to the grocery store. Fortunately she was able to convince the doors to open. The lift had made it to the 5th floor – one whole floor down – and thought it was on 2.

The lift “engineer”‘s prognosis was “I think the drive is dead.” I’m no lift engineer, so I’m not sure what that means, but I expect it means this will be a prolonged outage while the they who are involved in these things argue about costs, try to source a second hand part, or bodge the clearly broken one back together, maybe find someone to replace it at a discount, and generally treat the whole thing as “someone else’s problem.”

In this case, I’m the someone else. And I’m well past sick of this problem.

A few months after we arrived we were watching a bit of standup comedy on “telly.” The comic, who’s name I forget, was a Canadian who’d lived in the UK for a decade or so. He summarized the situation as “nothing in this country actually works, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.”

When we were done laughing we looked at each-other and realized it was funny ’cause it was true – and since hearing it put that way, his punch line has become a regular in our daily conversation.

“Nothing in this country actually works, and that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.”

Try it. There’s a good chance it applies to whatever the country you live in, too.