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Housemate Heaven

Moving out of my parents’ house was the best decision I ever made.

I have now settled in to my new abode. The rent is reasonable at £375 a month. For that I pink-new-home-cards-simple-new-house-classic-ideas-wonderful-sample-animal-love-spread-doorget the run of the whole house, next day service on any repairs, a TV with two channels, all bills included and the perfect housemate.

Helen is my age, a lovely, bubbly, tidy, respectful and relaxed tenant with shoulder-length dark brown straight hair and blue eyes. She works at a local hospital organising heart operations, but she wants to be a personal assistant.

She should really be a counsellor, she is so good at listening. Her brother is a psychiatrist so it must run in the family. She will patiently listen to any drivel I spout and look like she is interested. We both like rugby, drum and bass (minus illicit substances) and watching crap on TV (First Dates). That was until my boyfriend “fixed” it. We lost Channel 4 and 5 and now we just have BBC 1 and 2.

So far the landlord’s mum has provided a brand new toaster the day after the old one blew the electrics. I thought I would need to replace the fuse but thankfully it was as easy as switching it back on (thanks Google and the flashlight on my phone). She also does all the washing up and the dishwasher whenever she pops round (once every couple of weeks).  What more could you want?

Credit: Chic On A Shoestring

Leaking-Washing-Machine

Well there is one thing, a washing machine that you can use on any setting. Currently it only works on 40 degrees, delicate cycle and a quick spin. But I am being fussy. The household appliances are a strange combination of 80’s retro (literally from that decade if not older) and brand new, with the “replace it when it’s broken” philosophy. The dishwasher is safe enough but put the washing machine on the wrong setting and you get water all over the floor when you open it. Without a mop it took about an hour to sponge it all up…

It is peaceful here. No nagging from my mother (which was constant and caused headaches), just freedom. I can do no wrong in Helen’s eyes except when I half finish chores (a bad habit).

I have yet to use the complimentary garden herbs – rosemary and lemon thyme. I cooked a meal for Helen the first Friday. I got a discounted pork shoulder joint (only £3.50) and roasted it for an hour with white wine and potatoes. It was delicious.

The landlord is about my age, chatty and excitable with dark brown curly hair and bright eyes. She is a primary school teacher who lives in Bristol. Her parents help her manage the house they helped her buy (worth about £250,000 with a mortgage of just over £500 a month). They hoped she would stay in in the city but she went about four hours away to live with a boyfriend. That did not work out and she ended up staying there for the job which was better.

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Credit: Cardiff Caerdidi Tours courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent some quality time with her this weekend. She is also interested in rugby because her father was in a local team. Unfortunately rugby is a risky sport and he broke his ankle, shattering the bones in his leg. He never played again but kept it in his life by being the Chairman of the club and the ticketing association. We watched the Cardiff Blues lose narrowly to Munster (Ireland). I also went round the castle in Cardiff (Wales) and the National Museum. Apparently there isn’t much else to do there but it kept me entertained all weekend.

In other news I failed my automatic driving test for the second time. I failed the first one in February and the second one two days ago. The first time was because I had not had enough practice at parallel parking on a hill and was so shaken up after doing it correctly that I tried to get closer to the kerb wrongly. I ended up reversing out into the road. I forgot to put the car back into forward gear and then turned the wheel the wrong way. I got three minors (for going 40 in a 60 on undulating hills, for not being far enough into the middle of the road when turning right and for not looking ahead through the window before setting off).

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Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second time I was nearly back at the test centre (at that stage I had passed) when I lost concentration and thought it would only be a minor if I followed a van round a parked car. The man in the car waiting on the other side of the road was livid, gesticulating wildly. Of course it was a major – I should have waited. I got 7 minors including speeding (30 instead of 20), steering (not passing the wheel through my hands correctly) and going through an amber traffic light instead of stopping. If you are preparing for the test please click on this link for some advice.

As for my accommodation, it will probably be sold in a year or so but for now I am quite happy to stay where I am – this living arrangement works.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Driving, Life of Lydia, Travel, Uncategorized

New Year New Start – Update

moving-house-300x222

I have made good progress on my mission objectives. Tonight I met up with my future housemate.

My last attempt had been unsuccessful when Olivia’s friend returned from travelling and needed somewhere to stay. I thought that was it and was about to give up after a month of looking. I had asked to view another property but they had enough people viewing.

Then, out of the blue, the 30-something landlord replied saying no-one had made a definite offer, did I still want to have a look. She had moved to Bristol to live with her boyfriend. They had split up and she was wondering whether to move back to Sheffield or stay in Bristol, where she had a good teaching job.

I thought it would do and said yes straight away.

The terraced house was entered through the back. The kitchen was a bit small but was modern and well equipped. The living room was 15 degrees but that was because they’d only just turned the heating on and it came on twice a day.

There wasn’t a desk in the room but there was a kitchen table downstairs. My compact room looked out onto a brick wall and the petrol station but I’d only go in there to sleep anyway. My future housemate has said she wouldn’t mind me getting some bushes in pots to break it up a bit.

I could picture myself putting on a roast and nipping outside for some fresh rosemary.

There was plenty of storage space which was great because I have so much stuff. Maybe this is a good opportunity to downsize my clutter as well as my living space. It looked out onto a brick wall and a petrol station. Not ideal, but the curtains had black-out linings. I tested them and they created the bat’s cave I require.

The lounge was nice enough, with comfy chairs and a photo block of the Paris skyline. The TV wasn’t as big as ours and was a bit low but that wouldn’t matter, I have my laptop. The landlord’s bedroom had a Paris-themed duvet.

Paris skyline at dusk from the Hotel Concord roof.

Although it didn’t have a lawn it was near a park and it had a herb garden outside planted by the landlord’s mother, who showed me round. She sighed as she explained that her daughter had never been green-fingered and although she had tried to encourage her to plant some flowers, she was more interested in the house. There was a little patio behind the house.

my_herb_garden

I could picture myself putting on a roast and nipping outside for some fresh rosemary. The neighbours on one side were boys in their twenties or early thirties. I could see a nice modern kitchen and they had a lovely little back yard with a square of gravel, a wood burner and some garden furniture. They also had a shed that used to be an outdoor toilet. On the other side was a recently redecorated house for sale.
The landlord’s mother explained that the area wasn’t safe and that opportunists scouted the area on a regular basis. She had been a bit worried when her daughter bought the house. So they had fitted the safest door they could find she said, gesturing to the solid, chunky front door.man-breaking-into-home She asked that I kept it locked even when inside. Where I live we have had one attempted break in almost 30 years and the neighbours had a break in at Christmas, but that was their first. The intruder got as far as the back entrance, breaking through a small back door and setting off the alarm. He tripped over a bucket and falling against the washing machine blocking the way, before running off. The eagle-eyed neighbours saw the delinquent running away and the police were round quickly with a forensics team to check for prints. The neighbour at the end got broken into about five times though, once they even prised open a window and got in through that.

Mum also said there was a “drugs house” near where I was living and said that they would try and break in for drug money. Apparently there hasn’t been a problem since the house was bought though.

The housemate was a 28 year old girl with shoulder-length dark brown hair and sparkly blue eyes who worked at a local hospital organising operations. She was friendly and a good listener. She treated me to a cocktail and we had a good chat. We had lots in common – we both came from medical backgrounds – many of her three siblings were doctors, and we liked the same music and TV programme. Neither of us could cook much but we wanted to try. She had managed to expand her repertoire beyond my pasta and sauce.

cash-money

I will have to give up my glamorous lifestyle in this large airy, light house and adapt. The rent is a third of my salary but it’s a small price to pay for independence.assetuploadfile35520800

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Food for Thought

homeless-robbie-from-preston I am someone who likes the feeling of fullness. I am always eating. I buy food for one so I am guilty of contributing to our massive problem of food waste.

While I scoff myself and throw half-eaten food away, others are so starving that they dig into bins for something to eat.

I am talking about the “hidden homeless” that we walk past every day. I recently saw a programme about this desperate group of people called “Where am I sleeping tonight?”. The hidden homeless are not registered as homeless and therefore do not receive additional support. Those that sofa-surf (sleep on friends’ sofas) or sleep on the streets because they feel safer there than in hostels.

Research by the homeless charity Crisis indicates that as many as 62% of the homeless fit this category. For every month that the respondents spent in accommodation provided by the council, they had spent over three months sleeping rough.

There are estimated to be 1 700 hidden homeless people a year. The documentary really opened my eyes to something I had no idea about in my sheltered existence (literally). They lived with so little, not knowing where they would sleep at the end of the day or whether they would be safe. They were completely dependent on the goodwill of others just to stay alive.

homeless 2

It could have happened to any one of us if we had been less fortunate.

One boy of just 17 had struggled with anger-management issues and had beaten up his family until he got kicked out. He wished he could turn back time or that they could see how he had changed.

Another boy had fallen out with his mother, who then moved away leaving him with his grandmother. She fell out with him so he had to go. He said he hadn’t eaten for about a week and his eyes bulged with ravenous desperation as he waited in line for food, white as a sheet.

A girl was sofa-surfing as a messy divorce had made home hell. She said it had been friends at first, then friends of friends and then people she did not know at all. One man had tried to make a move on her and she had to find somewhere else to stay that night.

These vulnerable young people seemed to have little or no chance of escaping the endless cycle of hunger, cold and sleep deprivation.

Once someone I knew did a sponsored rough sleep for a homeless charity and he said it was he hardest thing he had ever done. He did it at the start of winter and he didn’t sleep at all because he was so cold in his sleeping bag and the concrete was so uncomfortable. homeless

The programme got me thinking. Surely there is something we can do to share the wealth. I have been brought up with everything and I take basic needs like food and shelter forgranted.

I have given food to beggars before. Just extra food that I will not eat or snacks like cereal bars. They are always gratefully accepted.

But I want to do more.

I am planning on buying a full lunch for a homeless person so they can at least have one proper meal that day.

I will get a sandwich, a flapjack (more filling than crisps) and some fruit. Perhaps a hot drink to go with it.

I want to start a movement like the famous “Pay It Forward” one. This one involves buying food for the needy. Some incredible people already do.

So how about you join us, reader, and buy a homeless person a sandwich.

If you do it let me know how it feels. When I have donated before I have always felt content. It is a feeling that only helping someone in need can bring. A deep satisfaction that you are making a small difference in an indifferent world. The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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Filed under Food, Life of Lydia

Thieving “carers”

Firstly, apologies that I haven’t written for a while – my creative energies are currently being directed towards a novel I’m writing. It’ll take several years to complete but I will let you know if it gets published.

From 2012-2013 there were just under a million cases of personal property theft according to the British Crime Survey. Yesterday I saw CCTV footage of a stealing personal assistant in the news and it upset me. It was even worse that the victim had only just come out of hospital. Sadly when I searched for the topic “CCTV stealing carer” many videos came up, including someone caught red handed and the mobile phone footage of the parent. Both ladies I’ve worked for have been victims of this crime. Unless the amounts are large, compensation is the most common outcome. However I think a jail sentence is necessary to teach them a lesson. This was given to a carer who stole £35,000 over four years from a couple.

They make an example out of cannabis growers, why shouldn’t they make an example out of those who steal from the people they are supposed to help? However, the criminals will not be able to work in the care industry and will probably struggle to get a job now, which is something. This is why if you think it is happening to you you must get video evidence and report it. Don’t leave them with a blank Criminal Records Bureau check so they can target someone else. The psychological scars it causes can be long-lasting.

Sadly it is difficult to stop this from happening – to scratch beneath the surface of someone at interview and see whether they have a good conscience. I wonder what makes these people feel entitled to stealing money from those who need it most. Some have suggested that if carers were paid more this might not happen. But I don’t think this is the case. It’s not desperation that leads these people to steal, it’s something that psychologists term “neutralisation” – thieves override their conscience with a justification that neutralises the guilt. In a 1984 study of American shoplifters researchers found that this was how they justified their criminal activity:

– If I am careful and smart, I will not get caught.
– Even if I do get caught, I will not be turned in and prosecuted.
– Even if I am prosecuted, the punishment will not be severe. – (when compensation is all that is ordered, I expect this is a motivation)
– The merchants deserve what they get.
– Everybody, at some time or another, has shoplifted; therefore it’s ok for me to do it.
– Shoplifting is not a major crime.
– I must have the item I want to shoplift or if I want it, I should have it.
– It is okay to shoplift because the merchants expect it.

The carer may have taken £20 per week rather than the whole amount in her employer’s purse because she thought that in small amounts it would not be spotted. The thieves obviously see those who they care for as soft targets. Perhaps she was also greedy – the Chanel handbag on the thief’s arm as she walked out of court seemed to suggest that. When I worked as a legal secretary we advised a girl who had stolen from her parents. She showed no remorse and merely worried what the sentence would be. Both the lady who stole £35,000 and this girl bought luxury items with the proceeds, leading one to think that, again, self-indulgence is a strong motivation.

My moral conscience is secure. I would never think that stealing was acceptable. When I looked after an elderly lady I was shocked to hear about her experiences. She was naturally very distrustful of anyone new and was worried whenever I had to run errands in her bedroom without her there. She had been the victim of hoax callers pretending to check her television was working who then stole from her. She had also been the victim of a carer who had stolen things while in her bedroom. When she was in hospital she had her wedding ring taken. She had resorted to carrying a pouch around her wrist with her valuables in and when she went into hospital she wouldn’t let anyone take it off her. She wouldn’t let me have a front door key, so when her door jammed and she couldn’t get out of her bedroom, I had to ring her son, frightened that something had happened to her during the night.

I dread to think of the care I will receive if I ever have to have home help, after hearing what she continuously went through. I asked her why she didn’t report it and she said she had no evidence and didn’t want to cause trouble. This was of course the reason that Lynette Nardone had to pay £1,000 for a CCTV security system as she didn’t feel safe in her own home. A CRB check won’t necessarily help either – whilst they do deter those that have been caught, they will not stop those who have escaped the law or first-time opportunists.

Shopping Errands – Preventing Access To Your Cash

Must we all have CCTV fitted in our homes? If you do have home help I would recommend doing this if a carer has to do shopping for you:

– tell them you will pay them afterwards and make it clear that you will only pay them back if they show the receipt. If they have a contract try and make sure there is a clause covering this in it or get them to sign a statement to this effect if possible

– ask for their bank details so you can make a transfer online when they are away

or if this is not possible:

– have some money ready

– ask to see the receipt

– ask them to leave the room and shut the door while you get the money out

Unfortunately it is impossible to tell who you can trust and who you can’t. It took many months for my employer to trust me after what she had been through. It is probably best to assume the worst.

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Filed under Advice, Life of Lydia, News Comment

Love thy neighbour as thyself

five_neighbours

I’m not religious, but the bible does have a lot of wisdom passed down through the years.

Research shows that one in eight Britons don’t know their neighbours. This figure was higher among those who lived alone. But they are the ones who may need next-door friends the most. A quarter of us do not know our neighbours’ names and 60% of us do not even talk to them.

Mine are fantastic. Yesterday for example, my kettle broke. This was not a life-threatening situation, but it was irritating having to boil up water in the pan. The guy next door brought over a spare. He could get rid of something that was collecting dust and I could have a cup of tea quicker, rather than waiting for my humble two-plate burner to heat up enough to boil water for 15 minutes. An0ther time he brought round some food when I ran out and hadn’t realised. In return when I had too many yoghurts that were close to their sell-by date I let him know and his whole family enjoyed them. In the past our nearby residents have been vital, babysitting us while our parents were out and even modelling for art projects. It makes you feel good to help others and you really get a sense of community spirit which hardly exists anymore in some areas. Being a good neighbour can even add extra value on to your next-door resident’s house, with 40% of buyers prepared to pay more for “trustworthy” and “quiet” neighbours. 

Bad neighbours can be the bane of our lives – messy, noisy and generally irritating. But good neighbours should be appreciated, we should invite them to our parties and help them when we can. When we’re away, they’re the ones who can keep the house going and keep it safe. When we’re in trouble they’re sometimes the only ones who are there to assist. Their proximity means you can share things you both use – some neighbours even share Wi-Fi. Websites have taken off on this idea, with the likes of streetbank.com and nextdoor.com being used by thousands. I am lucky having excellent people on both sides of me. It helps that they have known me since I was a baby and that they get on well with my parents.

On the Telegraph news website you can take a test to see how your good neighbour credentials stack up.

So next time you have food you need using up, next time you’ve baked too much, next time it’s Christmas, pop round. Get to know your neighbours. You never know when you might need them and you could make some new friends.

neighbours-talking

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