Archive for May, 2011

Hotel People

May 11, 2011

Our Easter plans didn’t really go to plan. That’s the joyful two fingers up of plans though isn’t it – try to rope life neatly in and she bucks and bolts. We had planned to go south, way, way south down the beach to where the muddy waters of the Ruvuma which boundary Tanzania meet with Mozambique and where the biggest, fattest fish are netted and dragged ashore. We almost got there, almost within finger touching distance but the rains came and took the road out and so that was that.

The children (can I still call them that? One is almost twenty, arrived from London wearing a blazer and promptly bought his dad a beer with his own money) were not overly impressed with their mother’s alternative budget accommodation option in Dar es Salaam. A fullfatfive is joyous. But it’s expensive, ‘you’ve only got to sleep in the bloody place’, I said, ‘how bad is that?’

Quite bad judging by the expressions that met my observation. One night of boarding school-skinny beds and an AC that hiccupped and coughed and spluttered but didn’t do much to lower the seething sweaty temperature in our rooms and Husband and I slunk next door to chichi Seacliff. I had dressed down for the occasion: if I look like I can’t afford to pay the full whack, I reasoned, perhaps I won’t have to? Getting caught in the rain en route helped perfect my yesterday shorts and t’shirt ensemble (I was wearing clean undies not, of course, that I was going to whip off overgarments to prove it: I was there to get a cheap room not get locked up.)  I shuffled through the glossy foyer taking cognisance of the fact that nobody in there was dressed like me, and I wondered when they’d last had a punter in here who’d haggled the rates?

Husband bore down on assistant manager Cecilia which all the confidence of a man who blags his way into hotels for an nth of the price all the time. He doesn’t. We are not, I tell my children as my mother used to tell us, ‘hotel people’. I hoped they might believe that was because they were above needing miniature bathroom accessories and enough dry towels so that nobody nagged about all the wet ones strewn across the floor. But they don’t: they know it’s because we can’t afford to holiday in hotels.

‘We have a company account here’, said my husband imperiously. Cecilia gave him a quick once over, in his chaplis and – yes – yesterday’s shorts, he didn’t look like he ought to be using ‘we’ and ‘company’ in the same sentence. ‘What are your best corporate rates?’  (because whilst I tell my children they are not Hotel People, my mother in law taught my Husband that if he did not ask, he would not get). Cecilia told us. They weren’t good enough. Surely, surely you can do better than that grinned husband. She could. A bit. Not much but enough that we could afford the little dark rooms at the back, where the bathroom miniatures aren’t as plentiful and the towels not as big but where, at least, the AC worked.

And where we could eat enormous breakfasts which were part of the package. My children have always been, I am mildly ashamed to say (because its proof of the fact I am both a faintly errant mother and a really lazy cook) urged, on the occasions that we do masquerade as Hotel People to Eat a Bloody Good Breakfast because I’m Not Feeding You Lunch. It is why they steal breadrolls and croissants from the breakfast buffet and secret them up sleeves and into bags. It’s why they pile plates obscenely high with bacon and sausages and garner a side order of cereal, fruit and a cupcake for good measure and then make their way precariously, like tight rope walkers, back to a table where – given that all three have been admonished similarly – space is at a premium. 

But my parenting (a verb now you note, no longer just a noun, such are the lofty heights that dragging up kids have scaled) tactics have backfired a bit over the years.  

We arrived in a lodge several years ago, after a long and hot drive and the children scrambled, relieved, from the car and raced inside to explore. I was mortified to discover – having checked us in – that they were eating the bread from the (empty) post lunch buffet table. ‘It’s a bit stale’ said a disappointed Ben.  I noticed, at dinner that evening, that the staff (who were too kind to say anything at the time, obviously taking enormous pity on a trio of kids that clearly belonged to a family so poor they couldn’t afford the standard safari wardrobe – Hat attired in Barbie Pink –  far less feed their children properly) had propped a neat little sign up beside the bread basket: For Display Purposes Only it said.

So they all eat as if they aren’t just at risk of missing the next meal, but missing the next week of meals and they also order stuff which absolutely doesn’t fit the description of breakfast. Ham and cheese and salami are fine – the continentals are good with deli food at breakfast time. But ice cream and waffles? Ice cream and waffles! Who the hell eats ice cream and waffles for breakfast I ask my girls who are both tucking in with gusto, splashing chocolate sauce and maple syrup across it all.

We do, they grinned, and anyway no lunch Mum! Remember? No lunch.

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Landlords

May 5, 2011

Take two rental scenarios.

Europe.

We own a tiny house in France. Tiny. Sweet but tiny. On a river in a village in the sleepy south west. We figured, because the numbers look good on paper (never, ever trust anything that looks good on paper, never) that in order to pay off our not insubstantial mortgage we should rent it out. Permanantly. So we would avoid the headache and the expense of furnishing it, the hassle of holiday deposits and broken glasses. On Paper, remember?

We found a tenant quickly. Fanny. (I am not joking). Fanny and her family hadn’t been in situ for a month when the complaints began rolling in: the electricity was a problem, the bills were too high, the house was too cold. (All this despite putting her signature to a legal document in which she confirmed the house was ticketyboo and the electricity consumption ok). I arranged artisans, conducted lengthy and expensive and mostly incomprehensible conversations with EDF.

Fanny kept fannying around. And complaining. And not paying her rent. And, worst of all, disallowing access to all the aritisans I neatly lined up to sort the problems out – electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters. Fanny took her dissatisfaction to the authorities. They indicated the house had some real problems and gave us a month to rectify them. I tried to tell them that’s what I’d been doing all along. If they understood me, they didn’t listen. Fanny fannied about some more and wouldn’t let the builders in until the authorities insisted she must. She did. Finally. With two days to spare. Her pet ferret on the loose, along with five dogs, 3 cats and a couple of birds (‘may we bring one dog’ she’d enquired at the outset, ‘of course’ we agreed. One), bit the builder’s mate so he excused himself for a tetanus jab. The builder hurried the work and – not surprisingly – it didn’t pass muster with the authorities.

The house has been condemned, unsellable, unrentable, still mortgaged to the hilt.

And now, and this is the only good bit, mercifully empty. Fanny has fannied off to wreck some other poor unsuspecting landlord’s life whilst enjoying the rent refund I am legally bound to pay for a year.

Africa.

We live in a rented house in the outpost. A small uninspiring bungalow built by the British administration in the fifties. It belongs to a Tanzanian who purchased it from the railway authorities back in the broken old eighties for a song. When we viewed it, it was beyond decrepit, the ceiling was falling in, the electrics were shot, the plumbing was collapsing, it was – in a word – uninhabitable. What if, we suggested, we renovate the house and deduct that from the rent. The landlord smirked and rubbed his hands together gleefully. OK, he agreed. You pay, I’ll organise the fundis, ‘yours are not good’, he added.

So we did. A budget was agreed and wefunded a verandah, the repairs to the ceiling, the electrics, the plumbing, the bad paint job, we teased the little house back into some semblance of habitability. I landscaped the garden.

All done it was agreed rental was sorted for six years and that there should be no rental increase until the renovations had been paid off.

Less than three years down the line and the landlord has doubled the rent. Doubled it. Overnight. You can’t do that we said, askance, and referenced him to the legal document we had signed at the beginning of the lease. ‘I can he’ said ‘it is my house and I can do what I like”.

Have you seen the house asked my husband, the roof is falling in, the rains pours through; the ceiling is jaundiced with huge brown stains the size of a dining table and it sinks despondently and dangerously, the walls streaked with muddy tears.

Every rainy season for the last two years we have draped the house in United Nations Blue plastic to help keep it water tight. To little effect. The plastic wears thin and the wind whips it to useless ribbons.

The landlord came to inspect the damage, sucked his ugly teeth and said, ‘this problem with the roof is your fault; you put the blue plastic up there’. But we had to, we insisted, ‘hah’, he said, ‘you broke the roof whilst you were climbing on it’.

Like I said: it all looked good on paper.

And why can’t I have me as a landlord?