Has the world gone mad?

In a week where a brouhaha over a baked Alaska made headline news (whilst the horrors of the Middle East continued, the staggering incompetence and negligence of various authorities in South Yorkshire was laid bare and various EU leaders scrambled about trying to look decisive in preventing the onward march of a megalomaniacal Russian), it would be a fair observation that the world is slightly screwed on its axis. Never was this more apparent than when I visited the local tip – or household waste site or whatever the hell is this week’s nomenclature.  In trying to exercise my civic responsibility I drove a box van to the site full of the detritus of clearing a house. My first error: thinking that I could drive in slowly to unload the rubbish into the appropriate receptacle.  As I passed through the gates of the establishment I was apprehended with that universal greeting of “Oi, you!”  Straight out of central casting for “The Office” a young lady informed me that I could not come in driving a van without a permit. “It’s all on the website” she said.  Indeed, she said this approximately 20 times in a two minute conversation. Firstly may I say that the lady in question was polite and must have gained a high score and a gold badge on the training day that her employers must have sent her on to deal with members of the public who have the temerity to not have the waste website on their “favourites” list.  Incidentally, if a household waste recycling site is on your “favourites ” list, you need help; quickly.  Her answer to every query or comment that I made was “It’s on the website”.  At this point you (as did I) can picture the scene of some shiny-suited, David Brent-esque character who illustrates every point that he makes with his hands and tries to be overly-friendly with everyone, coaching the aforementioned young lady to be firm with them and tell them, “It’s all on the website”.  Honestly, with such people in the demographic of society, how did we ever lose the Empire? I digress.  Having asked where I could get the permit that had now taken on an importance on a par with the Dayton Accords I was redirected to the council office 50 yards away. “They will get you a permit” I was informed.  Great. “But you can’t come in here with that van, even with a permit”. What? Apparently, the van that I was driving, hired with my normal car-driver’s licence was too big and would never ever be allowed through the portals of the establishment.  When asked what my council tax contributed towards, I was told that the waste recycling centre was actually privately owned and the council did not pay for it or contribute to any of its costs.  But you have to get your permit – for the van that will never be allowed in-from the council offices.  Got it?

I decided to look at the Torfaen Council website (ten minutes of my life lost forever).  For those of you who may be thinking of  getting rid of some rubbish: you cannot take a box van into the site.  You cannot take any type of DIY/renovation waste to the site in any type of vehicle.  Loading it onto a bicycle or pack mule was not covered, so may be worth chancing…You can however take in waste paper, cans, timber, trees, white goods, fridges, large domestic appliances, light fittings and pieces of furniture.  So all “Banned Items” from a DIY project can actually be taken in under “Permitted Items”.  Just not in a box van.  Or any other type of van if the contents are deemed to have come from a DIY project. Got it?

Several articles in the local press have featured residents of the area and therefore Torfaen Council Tax payers who have all spoken of the “unreasonable” rules being implemented.  Mr Mike Green of Croesyceiliog said, “I am an honest, law abiding, fair person.  I am also concerned about the environment and a man of conscience.  Had I been an unscrupulous man many of the items would have ended up on the side of the road and nearby fields”.   Very true.  These items could have been dumped illegally to sit alongside all the other illegally dumped items that are still sitting in fields and at the side of the roads in the Torfaen borough.  I am sure that if I queried as to why they are still sitting there the answer would have been something involving ‘budget cuts’ and the council are ‘working hard for the community’.  Perhaps if I may be so bold, my – and every other council tax payer’s money- could be directed towards providing a recycling site that actually allows someone to deposit items to be recycled, as opposed to the all-singing, all-dancing website that-whilst there is a need for a website- should not be the sole means of communication with the public, nor its content used as an excuse as to why responsible citizens cannot rid themselves of rubbish items that will not fit inside a household bin. The likelihood of that happening is possibly even money on going out to dinner with Miss Minogue.


To operate system: 1. Engage brain…

…2. Then open mouth.  Or in today’s technology-saturated world: 2. Turn on phone/computer, compose text/email, (offensive and abusive about several people, not least the one who pays your salary) and press ‘send’. 3. Prepare yourself for the opprobrium of the masses who are unimpressed with your-now public- misogynistic, racist and puerile missives. 4. Engage a good, (make that ‘no miracle, no fee’) legal team. 4. Issue grovelling apology. 5. Look for a new job. Oh dear me, clearly no one at Cardiff City had listened to Horace Rumpole when he offered the sagacious advice to, “never commit anything to writing that you would not be happy to put before a judge”.  This week, Messrs Mackay and Moody, (sounds like a firm of undertakers), must be rueing how they committed the ultimate faux pas of the 21st century; that is committing contentious and objectionable thoughts to the modern equivalent of paper – the medium of the electronic word.  Because as sure as the sun rises in the morning, it will come back to bite you in your nether regions.  A slander case has always been more difficult to make stick than one for libel, for very obvious reasons; but what cannot speak cannot lie and incriminating communications recorded for perpetuity do tend to hoist an individual by their own petard.

I suppose the most egregious mistake Malky and Ian, (now that makes them sound like children’s’ TV presenters) made, was to treat a self-made billionaire – not even just a millionaire – as a complete f£$*7g moron. The Malaysian gentleman may be eccentric in his ways, but as the person who owns the entire MacDonald’s franchise for Malaysia, you can be sure that he knows exactly how many chips are in a Happy Meal.  The LMA or managers’ trade union may be desperately trying to pass off as ‘friendly banter’ Malky’s reference to “the chink” and his description of a Korean midfielder and his representatives as “fkn chinkys”, but I think that it falls into the same category as Big Ron Atkinson when he called the Chelsea player a “big lazy N…”.

You may well be questioning what this unseemly affair has to do with my honourable profession (stop rolling your eyes).  Well it appears that there are plans for several websites to be launched, akin to Trip Advisor and the like, that allow tenants to rate landlords and agents, commenting on their performance and rating them out of ten.  Firstly, I immediately wondered whether the sister website was being launched to allow landlords to rate tenants… The concern that I have is that if these ideas to ‘benefit the rental industry’ come to fruition, the ‘wrong’ entry, (however accurate and beneficial to any future landlord or agent) about a tenant could result in a brick through the office window or any other associated building and the ‘wrong’ entry about a landlord or agent could possibly result in the tenant finding it very difficult to rent a new property.  No one benefits.

The art of stating the blindingly obvious…

…..representing a spectacularly small demographic.  Such was my conclusion when reading the results of a report that featured in many of the national papers.  According to a survey of potential purchasers by Savills, the thing that people most want is a great view.  May I just qualify that this was a survey of 400, (yes, a whole 400!) people who were looking to buy a country house.  Aha.  Methinks the clue may just be in the title. They are looking to buy a ‘country house’.  Does it not follow that a fundamental requirement of the purchase would be a view-of the countryside?  Martin Lamb of Savills, commented, “Views are so important that discerning buyers will often visit a property at different times.. they want to make sure that they will be enjoying clear country skies, and not hideous orange glows from town lights.”  Understood.  But would the same people searching for the ideal country house be so affronted by the “hideous” lights if they were being viewed from One Hyde Park (and the glow of the lights illuminating the Harrods sign?)  The list of key features that buyers apparently seek when searching for a property included; land surrounding the property, internal period features, a swimming pool and a cinema.  If you have millions to spend, all of the aforementioned could be expected for the price, which incidentally is usually ‘on application’. ‘POA’ is the greatest combat indicator there is that you will be paying the highest level of stamp duty. Would this conclusion hold true for Cwmbran, Pontypool or any conurbation not the location of choice for the affiliates of The Sunday Times Rich List ?  The practicalities of life including proximity to the local school, hospital or nearest bus stop may take precedence.

On a not wholly unconnected topic, I was bemused by the reports of the young lady who was caught at Heathrow trying to smuggle 16k inside her Alan Whickers.  As someone who is not entirely unfamiliar with lingerie departments and the interior décor of Ann Summers, I have to admit that having purchased various female undergarments over the years, there isn’t enough room in them for the bus fare home.  Now if it fell upon me to transfer the monies, there would be enough room for the entire haul from the Brinks Allied heist.  That’s got you thinking hasn’t it…

“Have we met before…”

I mused to myself whilst standing in the queue for the self-checkout at a well-known supermarket.  Incidentally, if ever there was a misnomer is it not ‘self-checkout’, as the only part of the self involved is self-control as you restrain yourself from hurling a packet of crisps and a bottle of Bacardi (note my healthy eating habits), half way across the neighbouring aisle as the screen apprises you to, “call an assistant”. The reason why I pondered if I had rudely ignored somebody was the result of one of the aforementioned customer assistants yelling “Oi, mate, one’s free over there” as I waited my turn to wrestle with modern technology. Mate? Did the callow youth attracting my attention go to school with me? Possibly his mother?  Call me old-fashioned (and yes, I am aware that most of you do; no drain pipe legged, shiny material, slim-fit suits for me, thank you very much), but I have always been of the opinion that one should address any one that you do not know, as Mr or Mrs/Miss /Ms (for the burn-your-bra sorority) until told otherwise by the person whom you are addressing.  ‘My dear chap’ may be a little excessive, but ‘Oi mate’ does take the proverbial.

According to the editor of Tatler, good manners as are important as GCSE and A-level grades when it comes to forging a successful career.  Admittedly, the readership of the glossy is targeted at a demographic where the wealth that the readers are enjoying now was accrued sometime after William hopped off the boat at Hastings, but Kate Reardon made a valid point when stating that people should focus on being “polite and respectful” as well as gaining qualifications and not resorting to hiding behind a phone or computer screen when communicating with another human being. Bennett Cerf, the American founder of the behemoth publishing firm, Random House  commented, “Good manners. The noise you don’t make when eating soup”. Good manners are not solely about eating asparagus with your left hand (followers of Debrett’s will know why this is), or using the correct spoon, but being polite and respectful to people so that they feel valued.  Transposing this to the property market, certain agents ‘accompanying’ potential purchasers to properties, opening the door with a nonchalant, ‘there you go’ before obsessing over their phone/tablet does not make somebody feel valued, be it the potential buyer or the vendor who is entrusting their property (and ultimately their money) into the agent’s tender care.

The theme of standards again came to my attention whilst I was reading The Daily Telegraph earlier in the week. The pottery industry in its heartland of Stoke-on-Trent is booming.  Not because of its prodigal son, Robbie Williams decorating his Hollywood home with whimsical china figurines, but because French gypsies are turning up by the caravan-load to buy Royal Albert and Royal Doulton china, as they will only eat or drink from these types of crockery.  The fact that it can be flogged for double or treble the amount back in France has, of course, no relevance.  The article led with the searching question of who today actually drinks tea from a china cup and saucer?  Well actually, I do; as countless beleaguered negotiators in various estate agencies across South Wales will testify, (not forgetting the current and previous Mrs Cheshire).  I must ask my mother whether she ever went on a caravan holiday to Normandy.

Property inspection of the week

He-aart breaking tales of ghostly goings-on…

According  to various sources this week, the latest flagitious activity to afflict the housing market is that of ‘ghost gazumping’.  This doesn’t mean Banquo’s ghost showing you around a 3-bedroomed semi in Croesyceiliog, but-in a phrase first coined by the Financial Times- when the seller asks the buyer for more money just days before exchange.  As expected, such nefarious behaviour is making an appearance in the London postcodes that have constantly been responsible for the hysterical headlines of recent weeks.  It is, to put it mildly, cheeky; but due to the desperation for houses in certain areas, vendors do it quite simply because they can and agents are equally complicit.  Think about the figures and put yourself in the shoes of the house owner; you are able to boost the amount for which you can sell your property for an extra £40,000 (having already agreed at a lower figure) and the purchasers still want to go ahead with the sale. Equally, the agent stands to increase their fee with no further legwork required.  As the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm said, “When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses”.  Quite.  Very few of us have a freehold on the moral high ground.  Admittedly the vendors demanding more may well find themselves on the receiving end of some equally unscrupulous behaviour when trying to complete on their new property.  Sin an saol agat.

Such shameless and fraudulent behaviour is though not limited to within the M25.  In the last year, Cheshire and Co (and we are not alone) have lost a couple of properties to certain corporate agents telling vendors that they have “20 people who will view the property on Saturday” and “we have people wanting to buy in this street, now, this minute, in fact five minutes ago, last week/year/millennium”.  Of course, it is the vendor’s decision.  When checking several months later (remember, what cannot speak, cannot lie), ascertaining that the property remains unsold and then asking the vendors how the plethora of viewings went, the response has been some variation of, “ummm, well, it never happened…. but the agents have told us to drop the price…” He-aart less behaviour indeed.