A Clean Start

I spent three nights at my uncle Terry and aunt Margrit’s not far from Heathrow. I needed some rest and recuperation and time to map out what needed to be done while back in the UK. I had only the clothes that I’d brought from St Martin so Terry donated some warm clothes and trainers.

Life is like a trek across the hills: once you’ve conquered one peak then the view opens up to the next. Now that I was back and over Irma’s peak I could get a clearer view of what was ahead. I’ve discovered that it’s pointless to try and guess what’s beyond the next hill and best to deal with what’s immediately in view.

A brand new chapter in my life’s journey and a fresh page on which to write it. My son’s 21st was in a couple of days and I wanted to be there for that. My Van was in the woods on a farm in Essex miles away and needed fixing up, that would take more than a couple of days. But the biggest mission was to restore the rental income that had dried up over the last few months due to an errant tenant that stopped paying on an apartment in Wiltshire. I needed transport to go and see for myself what was happening since the letting agents were not providing updates. Money was running out steadily.

I had originally intended only two or three nights at T&M’s but I still felt exhausted after two nights but the third night took me into Sunday where the public transport prices from Staines to Northampton were double what they would be for a weekday. Also, Phil, my old school-mate, was working and would be home Monday and I could walk to his house from the bus station. Staying the extra night solved a few problems and got me back to Northampton on the day of my son’s birthday.

Phil has a spare room and offers me sanctuary at his home whenever I’m back in Northampton. He kindly lent me his car so I could take my son out to dinner and then go and to visit my mother over the week I was there. My sister donated her old phone so I was getting back on my feet without too much effort on my part.

It was an odd sensation being ‘home.’ Everything you can think of is available here, where it takes some scraping around in the Caribbean to get what you want, often having to make do. The supermarkets are bursting with goods with room to move between the aisles – and ironically bustling with bored looking and unhappy crowds of people. A country so full that feels so empty…

The van was the next item on the list and Phil offered to drive me down to Neil’s in Essex. Neil was looking after the van on a friends farm while I was away and he offered me his sofa while we got the van road-legal. Together with a few of Neil’s friends, the brakes were fixed and we were awarded an MOT certificate for another year. In the back, I thought there would be mould in the bedding, since the UK is so damp most of the time but it was pretty good apart from being covered in mouse droppings and the corners of bags, boxes and books being gnawed away. Cleaning the van out revealed a mouse’s nest made out of Sainsbury’s carrier bag strands and flakes under the bed but no mice, dead or alive, and a trip to the launderette freshened up the bedding and covers.

It took about 3 days to sort the van out but Neil is good company so I spent a fourth night on his sofa before heading down to Wiltshire…

It was dark by the time I arrived in Devizes and I parked in a quiet spot just outside the cemetary gates next to the Canal. Handy for a Wetherspoons breakfast in the morning. The van had run really well. I was thinking I didn’t really need a boat… until spending the night in 4°C with Autumn barely upon us. I can handle the cold but not for the six months plus that it feels like in Britain.

After breakfast and a warm up in Wetherspoon’s, I headed back toward the van via Tea Inc. “Hello is it tea you’re looking for?” on the chalk board outside was the cheery greeting that welcomed me in as the hinges on the door squeaked my arrival. The owners who weren’t there, but Alex who was and we happily chatted over a cup of nettle tea until way past my parking limit. Facebook kept her up to date with my adventures abroad and felt like we chatted like old friends. It was easy to put off dealing with the property issue but the threat of a parking ticket was a big enough nudge to down the last of the tea and make my way…

I parked up in Chippenham and walked across the Avon Bridge to Atwell Martin Estate Agents. They didn’t recognise me until I told them the address I was enquiring about. Basically, they had not been able to contact the tenant (we shall call him Norman to protect his real name of Richard) for the last couple of months. It appears, Norman lost his job a few months ago and got some work as a doorman but they didn’t know where. And they thought it would be pointless me calling round since he was never in whenever they called. I already had a key so…

Pulling into the car parking area with the crackle of the Ford Diesel disturbing by stealthy approach, I noticed windows open but the blind down on the lounge window. I didn’t really fancy confronting a club bouncer about rent arrears but I had to stop the various scenarios spooling through my imagination and just go and take a look and see what happens…

The windows being ajar gave the impression that someone was home so I knocked on the door a couple of times: no answer. Likewise at the neighbours to try and get some info: nothing. Going outside and calling through the open window and lifting the blind for a quick look gave the impression that someone would be back soon. All it needed was a steaming cup of coffee standing on the table as a classic mystery clue.

Since there was no-one home and the windows were open, I used my key for ‘peaceful entry,’ or whatever the legal term is. As the door swung open, a pile of unopened mail swept along the arc of the door. Clearly, no-one had been in for days or weeks. The mould on the washing up in the sink kind of confirmed that too. Otherwise, the place looked ‘lived in.’ There was nothing much I could do apart from closing the windows before leaving. None of the scenarios I had imagined had played out in reality. In fact, the open windows did me a favour in allowing me grounds for legal access with no hint of adversity.

On my way out, I met William, the neighbour opposite. I hadn’t seen him for a year so we had a quick catch up about boats, hurricanes and homelessness before getting onto the history of Norman the elusive Doorman. Apparently, Norm hadn’t been around for a couple of months. He had a girlfriend here not long before disappearing and, since they’ve been gone, various people have been banging on his door. My guess is debt collectors looking at the mail envelopes. William told me
“He works as a doorman.”
“I know, Atwell Martin told me but no-one knows where.”
“No, he works at Earls in Bath. I see him when I walk to the station when I finish my shift. We say hello as I pass… Yeah, I saw him there last week sometime.”

This was getting to be fun. A puzzle to unravel. I had a lead…

Returning to Atwell Martin, I relayed my findings to their surprise, and tried to clarify the situation since the Tenancy Agreement had expired a couple of weeks previous and the property appeared to be ‘abandoned.’ There was no solid conclusion apart from to get legal advice. I went to the local pub with WiFi to ask on the property forum’s instead. It turned out that all I had to do was have a ‘duty of care’ for Norman’s belongings; safe storage for a reasonable period, apparently. Without this, a judge might take the side of the tenant should the matter go to court.

As luck would have it, there was a pig trailer in the parking area that William told me belonged to Norman. But, before emptying the apartment, I would go to Earls…

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