Archive for April, 2006

The new floors are down, and we’re nearly ready to move into the new house tomorrow morning. The contractors have done a really, really good job on the floors — I’ve lived in England so long that I’ve come to expect second-rate work, so it’s a real surprise when someone comes along and does a really top-quality job. The floors are cherry, in case anyone’s keeping track.

I’ve still got a lot of packing to do tonight, but we should be in the new house by this time tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a brief tour of the downstairs:

Living room

Living room

Dining room

Dining room


Entrance hallway



Powder room

Powder room

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I’ve got a thing about McDonald’s restaurants around the world. I actually make a point of seeking them out when I’m abroad to check out what they have to offer. I’m fascinated by the way they maintain their brand consistency, yet tailor their products to the individual population they’re serving.

So I was ecstatic when I came across this Thai version of Ronald McDonald in mid-wai. It was a sight-seeing trip and photo-op all in one!

Matt and Ronald McDonald

Aude and Ronald McDonald

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It seems that I’m overdue for a rant or two. Last week it was estate agents, this week it’s mechanics!

I was frustrated with the previous garage that I’d been using to maintain my Corvette — constant overcharging, recurring faults that they never seemed to cure, and a general sense that I wasn’t really getting my money’s worth. They’d replaced my battery, the wiring from the battery to the starter motor, and the starter motor itself, all within the last year.

My starter motor was playing up (again), so I decided it was the last straw. I took the car to another specialist in Sevenoaks who comes highly recommended. He said that it was amazing that I’d made it without the car catching fire — apparently the “new” wiring job was a proper bodge job, with the wiring held together by a nut, bolt, and some electrical tape. The wiring had melted and welded itself to the headers, shorting the entire electrical system. It was a disaster waiting to happen, and means that I have to replace all the wiring, battery, and starter motor (again!) at a cost of around £1200.

I’m going to try to get the money back from the original garage for their faulty work, but I sense that they’ll not cough up the money without a fight. Luckily I’ve had plenty of experience using the online small-claims system, because I suspect I’ll be needing it again!

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Matt looking perky
Here I am, alive and well

Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I’m alive and well, spending another night at the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel. It’s my home away from home, except that here someone picks up after me!

Sheraton Heathrow Exterior

I figured that everyone was tired of seeing shots of the rooms, since they’re all more or less the same. Instead, I thought I’d include a shot of the outside, to show the nice, sunny, spring-like weather we’re having right now. And because, let’s face it, Heathrow isn’t very picturesque and there isn’t much else to photograph here.

Looking at my last update, I realise that I’ve really been neglecting this website over the past couple of weeks. It isn’t apathy that keeps me away, but a lack of time. Quite a lot has been happening, so I’ll try to recap the main events…

The New House
The good news is that we finally managed to sign the lease on the new house, after quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the estate agent and the landlord. There was some debate as to whether they’d take the cats (they will) and whether they’d replace the carpeting with wooden flooring (they will, sort of).

Rather than replace the floors themselves, the landlord has agreed to take a reduction in rent and will allow us to put in wooden flooring at our own expense, which is actually a better deal from my point-of-view. It means that we have a say over the quality of flooring installed and the type of wood selected. And we have a lower rent going forward, so it should be cheaper for us in the long term if we stay in this place for a while.

The bad news is that the agents have been playing good-cop, bad-cop. We’ve been dealing with two different agents. The first one went into hospital for an operation (presumably a brain transplant – read on!). We’ve been dealing with a second in her absence. Despite the fact that we disclosed on day one that we were looking for a place from 1 June onwards, at the 11th hour the agent said that we had to take it by the end of April or no deal. She claimed ignorance of our earlier requirements.

Properties of this type are scarce in Canterbury, so we were between a rock and a hard place. As my current lease expires at the end of April (and my current agent hasn’t bothered returning my calls requesting an extension of the lease – chalk up another one for crummy British estate agents), I’ll simply let my lease expire and we’ll move a month earlier than planned. It does play havoc with our schedules, though, as we’d planned to move a month later! Moreover, we were schedule to be away in France on the proposed moving dates!

The whole ordeal, combined with my previous experiences buying and selling houses in the UK, has confirmed my firmly held belief about estate agents in the UK. They’re all lying, cheating, incompetent scum. There’s no certification process in becoming an estate agent, and as a group they display a shocking lack of professionalism. The sooner they all end up at the bottom of the sea, the better. If someone had the capital to invest in creating a nation-wide group of accredited estate agents, it would be the single biggest improvement to the property market in the UK in the past 50 years. I’ll take a lawyer over an estate agent any day!

Rant over. In any case, 29th April is our move-in date – before which we need to have the new flooring installed and all the remaining carpets in the house cleaned. Oh, and somehow I need to find the time to pack up all my things…

Our Vacation
But before we move into the new house, we’ve got a vacation coming up (hurrah!). We leave on Saturday for 16 days in Thailand – three in Bangkok, the rest in Phuket.

The trip is mostly about relaxing, but I’ve got a few things I want to do as well. I’d like to do a lot of diving, but I’m most excited about diving the following sites:

King Cruiser wreck

The King Cruiser wreck, which will be my first dive of a shipwreck. Here are some photos from the actual site.-

The Phi Phi Islands

Shark Point, which I’ve dived before, but didn’t see any sharks!

I may do my Advanced Open Water Diver certification, depending on Aude’s appetite for diving. We went diving when we were in Mauritius, but the water there was cold and the visibility wasn’t great – so she’s come away with mixed emotions about the whole experience. Diving in Thailand is completely different – great visibility, a huge variety of sea life and scenery, all of it very colourful and exotic, and water as warm as bathwater. It really is one of the greatest spots to dive anywhere in the world.

Otherwise, we plan to play a little tennis, sit by the pool, have lots of massages, do some horse riding, and maybe take a cooking lesson or two. The hotel has excellent Thai and Italian restaurants, and both offer cooking courses once a week.

Aude has friends and former colleagues in Bangkok, so we’ll try to meet up with some of them as well…

Life in General
I’ve just started a new project at work, so I’m being kept very busy at the moment (hence the lack of updates on this website). The pace is likely to continue until the end of June, at which point it will slacken off again, I hope.

Life in Canterbury has been pretty quiet. Spring is obviously in the air – our friends seem to be coupling off and loads of them are taking houses together, so the past few weeks have been housewarming party after housewarming party. We had a 30th birthday party last week, but other than that we’ve mostly been spending quiet evenings at home, trying to catch up on our sleep and get ready for all the excitement of April.

And finally, the Corvette went into the shop on Saturday for it’s annual service and inspection. Now that the spring weather is here, it’s time to get it out in the sunshine, where it belongs!

That’s my update. Now that I’m going on vacation, I should have some more interesting things to post here over the next few weeks.

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