Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a blog for quite a while. Sorry about that. I’ve been meaning to, I really have, but Real Life has a nasty habit of intervening.
Damnit, I hate Real Life! Give me dragons, or espionage, or an unstoppable alien invasion! Real Life… is like a big fat wobbly bum cheek. Not something I really want to experience, either personally or vicariously.
On the upside, my parents have been trying to rent out a house in South Wales for over a year now. The house itself… isn’t great and the area… well, could do with demolition (or an outbreak of a chav-eating virus of some kind).
Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a bit of a shit hole. But then, the weekly rent is about the same price as a Big Mac meal and none of the previous tenants have bothered with anything so trivial as actually paying it.
After the last woman left (actually she fled, leaving several thousand pounds in unpaid rent and bills – not the first time this had happened and certainly not the last. It was notable mostly due to the contrast with the rest of her tenancy, during which I don’t think she actually left the sofa) – we’d had a lot of cleaning up to do.
I don’t want to be mean to her or anything; I’m just setting the scene. But she did look rather like Jabba the Hutt.
King amongst her crimes against us was the breaking of windows. In a house of six windows, she’d broken four of them – and all of the doors. Some had been kicked in, some punched, still others bore mostly teeth marks… Her dog – which she didn’t have when she moved in – weighed as much as your average bison. I never got to meet it, but I extrapolated it’s size by scaling up those teeth marks. Apparently one of the windows was down to the dog – it had seen something outside that ‘bothered’ it, and had reacted accordingly. It leapt straight through the window, a feat made all the more impressive by the twin facts that a) the window in question was five feet up the wall, and b) it was double glazed. Was double glazed. Now it was glazed with a bin liner.
Anyway, there’s a whole story behind what we had to do to clean the place up. Maybe I’ll get into that one day. For now, it only serves to illustrate my point that Real Life doesn’t smell like roses. It smells like sacks of year-old excrement stored in the back garden of a rental property for no reason under God that I can understand.
So when the call came through that we had a new tenant for the House of Horrors, I was overjoyed – for about 30 seconds. The rest of the call went on to mention that the place needed a bit of a clean before it would be suitable to move into. It had been empty for a year, and in that time a goodly number of insects had seen fit to expire inside it. Dust had settled. The garden had gone a bit wild…
It was with a heavy heart that I packed a cheap electric strimmer into our camper van and jumped in with my parents, off to spend the bank holiday weekend in my least favourite part of the world. Or rather, in traffic on the way to it. It was, after all, a bank holiday. I live in the West Country, which is where everyone who doesn’t live there, spends their bank holidays. The two hour journey took four, but I didn’t mind. Even gridlock on the M5 is preferable to certain parts of the South Wales Valleys.
We arrived and set to. We’d left two suede leather sofas in the house, having had them steam cleaned for reasons I won’t go into. Alas, an unoccupied house during the harshest winter on record had not been kind to belongings; both sofas were covered in mould. The garden looked like a set from Jurassic Park. I kept a sharp lookout for velociraptors as I fired up the strimmer…
It took the whole day. Still, nothing in comparison to our last visit, when I’d built a bonfire of brambles and kept it burning for four days straight. In fact everything went swimmingly, including Mum’s cleaning inside the house. Being a gnome she can’t clean anything higher than about three feet off the ground, so we still had to go around the top cupboards in the kitchen with a duster. After removing my hundredth cobweb something occurred to me about spiders: they are monumentally stupid. Many a documentary waxes on about their fantastic web building abilities, but I never saw one that explained this phenomenon: the house was carpeted in dead insects. Thousands of the buggers. Entering it for the first time was like a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Yet still the spiders had spun their webs, and died in them, presumably of starvation. It had never occurred to them, once nothing was left to fly into their nets, to go and eat the countless dead ones. Perhaps that’s why they don’t have thumbs yet.
I slept the night on a mouldy couch. My parents used a mattress that looked like it had been the scene of a ritual slaughter. In the morning we took all of the above items to the nearest tip, parking outside and carrying them in as the camper van couldn’t get past the height restricting bar. As Dad and I staggered towards a container marked ‘Furniture’, we were accosted by one of the staff. He took one look at the suede sofa and said, “Number Five.”
Clearly, he didn’t like the look of our sofa. Skip Number Five was for landfill.
We put the mattress in Furniture anyway, because it was considerably closer than Skip Five (and that was a bloody heavy mattress), and because by then the guy wasn’t there to tell us we couldn’t. Half an hour later we struggled past with the second shitty sofa and sneaked a look into Furniture. The mattress had been removed.
It was just after we got back and started packing up that our day went downhill. We got a call from the plumber, saying he’d have to come up and give us a certificate to prove the gas boiler was safe to use. He’d be there in a couple of hours, which made me wish we’d been less enthusiastic about chucking the sofas as we now had nothing to sit on.
Back at home my girlfriend Roo was panicking. A team of carpet cleaners, who we’d completely forgotten we’d booked, had arrived with all their gear. She raced around moving furniture, giving a running commentary to us via a series of increasingly desperate phone calls.
“I need the hoover. Where’s the hoover?”
“Um, we’ve got that here with us. Sorry.”
“They want to move the computer – can I unplug it?” “They want to use a special chemical – should I let them?” “Now they want to go clean your granddad’s flat – are they supposed to?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I told her.
“You mean I’ve got to move all your granddad’s furniture too?!”
Then, when all seemed to have settled down, we got one last frantic phone call from Roo; “Help! I moved a bookcase and now there’s SPIDERS coming out of the wall! Hundreds of them! SHIT!”
At the other end of the line, my parents and I stared at each other in shocked disbelief.
Then we all pissed ourselves laughing.
Mum thoughtfully covered the phone, in case poor Roo thought we were making light of her predicament. The only advice we could give her, when we’d recovered the power of speech, was to look under the sink for some bug spray.
I was surprised, but not so much. “Does anyone else think that getting the carpets professionally cleaned at our house is a bit like trying to put sellotape over the hole in the Titanic?”
Our house is in worse a state than the one in Wales – largely because we devote all our renovation attempts to the houses we let out. Our own just sort of slips through the cracks…
Those cracks were the subject of conversation as we sat in the inevitable traffic jam on the way home. “We’ve really got to fill them,” Mum was saying.
“First we’ve got to get rid of the spiders,” I pointed out.
“No,” said Dad. “First we’ve got to stop the shower water from coming through the ceiling downstairs…”
So if I don’t get around to posing a blog next weekend either – well, you know what I’ll be up to. And it probably won’t be pleasant…