How to buy a house

This is not a comprehensive or legal guide, and some of the aspects of this are just generally not a good idea. This is how we did it, though:

1: Raising a Deposit or, Tragic Luck

A couple of years ago, my last remaining grandparent died. As a result of this, I could afford a deposit.

That’s the single biggest thing that propelled this process. I’m an IT worker on significantly above the UK average wage, my partner is also employed, and without this kick-start we would be renting for the rest of our lives no question. “Relief” for first time buyers saved us ~£5k on a £70,000 investment. Sure, the numbers would be a lot different if we weren’t buying in one of the most expensive areas of the country (Oxford is, on a house-price to average-salary ratio, more expensive than London, though that’s partially due to demographics); but people have to live here too.

2: Very Large Nets or, House Hunting

So June happened, and with it a large amount of money arrived. I paid off all debts, set a budget for Shiny Things from it, spent that, and realised that if I didn’t start this house-buying process now, I was going to gradually chip away at my inheritance on a “well, it’s only” and “I’ll put it back in next month” basis until I’d fucked everything up.

Just down the road from us was a brand new development – rare in Oxford, whose surrounding Green Belt constricts new housing development a lot of the time – called Barton Park, announced to great fanfare as having 40% affordable housing. All of that, however, appears to have been allocated to Oxford’s massively underserved Social Housing system, which I entirely support as a concept, but in this case means that none of the affordable housing is actually buy-able, and the non-affordable housing is… well, not affordable. 3 bedroom places were going from £580,000. My budget was – with a 60k deposit and a rough and ready mortgage calculation – £350,000. (I could have gone higher, but I wanted to keep monthly rates down. Plus every year I’ve not been able to do this is a year I’ve put over £12,000 into a landlord’s pocket instead of a house, and correspondingly reduced the time I can spend paying off a mortgage before I – hah – retire. I’m 38).

So, budget set, area set (within commute distance for my partner’s work. I’m remote, so it matters less to me), I hit my preferred house-hunting tool, Nestopia. There wasn’t much there. Apparently the housing market goes quiet between June and August – a fact that boggles my mind – but we had a couple of available options.

The first was a home that had been until quiet recently the Forever Home of an elderly couple for most of last century. Small rooms, a desperate need for redecorating and dodgy wiring aside, it had a nice garden and an external garage. It was going to take a certain amount of fixing up, but it was a nice option. We dithered for a bit, and a buy-to-let landlord scooped it.

The second place we saw was an end of terrace 3 bedroom with good transport links, an even nicer garden, a less nice but still great shed, decent sized rooms fairly recently redecorated. The floorboards felt a bit weird, and the religious iconography in every room was certainly a design choice, but it felt like a nice place. We were viewing it at the same time as another mid-30s couple, and as we left we decided it was worth a punt.

3: The Punt or, An Offer They Certainly Could Refuse

I told the seller’s Estate Agent, and they recommended a third party insurance broker. I booked an appointment with her the following morning, and we went though various options and what the next steps were. She put all our data into her system, and it spat out several options on mortgages, and I selected one based on her recommendation and terms. I could have done a lot of this online, but the deals I could get myself weren’t anywhere near as good as the broker’s. There are very few companies who come out of this process without complaint, but our mortgage brokers are one of them, they’ve been great though the rest of this torturous process. Let me know if you’re looking nearby, and I’ll put you in touch.

Mortgage offer in hand, I went back to the Estate Agents and put in an offer at the asking price. I probably could have gone slightly lower, but the other couple did that, and our offer was accepted.

(This is the point where I found out who the mortgage was with – it didn’t really matter as much as the numbers to me – and found it was a company whose Mortgage Application Tracking software I was working on 15 years ago, and nearly got fired for complaining about in a blog post where I (stupidly) didn’t redact my employer’s name)

That was June 21st, and was the last time we’d be in that house until October.

4: Due Process or, Solicitation or Bust.

Here’s a mistake we made: After the excellent advice of the Mortgage Advisor I forgot the central rule of dealing with Estate Agents which is: They work for the Vendor. When they suggested a Conveyancer I said “Yes, put them in touch with me”. Shortly afterwards I got a bill for searches and some other documentation saying “Thank you for retaining us”. When I asked on whose instruction they were working on, they said “Your estate agent”. Then their quote got the Stamp Duty wrong by ten grand. Then they said they couldn’t represent me because the vendors were also with them, but they would transfer me to their Nottingham office because “It’s technically another law firm”.

Reader: I fired them.

I took a couple more recommendations, and then went with the time honoured tradition of picking the one which actually answered and got back to me within a week. They did… fine, I guess. They’re not getting named here, because I’m going to whinge about them later.

They started doing searches for things like flood plain information, building land rights, sorting out contracts, that kind of thing. I wound up their clockwork with some starting cash, and they skittered away like a tin soldier.

That was 25th June.

5: Not-So-Easi-Form or, It’s Coming From Inside The Walls

Between 1920 and 1960, but mostly in the years following the World Wars, it became necessary to put up houses cheap and fast, thereby unticking the classic checkbox “good” of that trilogy. Laing came up with a thing called “Easi-Form”, where the foundations and walls are (as I understand it) cast in place with rebar for reinforcement. This is great, but that was ~70 years ago and there are a few cracks in the walls where it’s settled over the years, and sometimes those cracks leave the rebar open to the elements, at which point it rusts, dissolves and becomes less reinforcement, more liability.

The above took me around 4 months to learn. Here’s why:

Because the floorboards felt slightly weird – as mentioned above – when we went for the building report we got a full “Homeowners Report” instead of the basic level. This report is everything you ever wished to know about a place you were moving into, from which bits have been bodged with plaster and hope, through to what the walls are made out of and what’s going to need to be fixed in the next few years. Our report came back slightly before the mortgage one did, which is why we weren’t surprised when the mortgage company’s structural engineer’s report also came back – in part – with “this is a non-standard build, I’m not qualified to say if it’ll stand upright for the length of the mortgage”, which is when I learnt about Easi-Form.

At which point we needed to hire a Structural Engineer who could give a professional opinion on Easi-Form structures, which proved difficult. Every Structural Engineer our original building inspectors knew were either busy, skiing over the summer, or not willing to stake their liability insurance no-claims on Easi-Form. Eventually we found one, sent out another pile of money, and got back a report saying “Seems fine”, which took a few weeks, by which point it’s August 13th.

Then we sent it on to the mortgage company, who took a couple of weeks, and said “Why is only one of your names on this? There are two of you.” Which had been true of every report so far, but we got the Structural Engineer to add my partner’s name to it anyway, and sent it back. It’s September now.

A couple of weeks later, the mortgage company’s structural engineers came back and said “… we need more specifics about where it is and isn’t fine, and how much it might cost”.

The Structural Engineers bumped this up the chain until it got to the guy whose name is on the masthead, who added a basic cost for refacing all the walls in the next ten years or so and sent it back to us, and I sent it to the mortgage company, who sent it to their structural engineers.

Who, after a couple of weeks, came back with “Seems fine”.

By this point, it’s September 24th.

7: The Cult in Arboriculturalism or, Attack of the killer trees

While this is going on, the mortgage valuation report also came back with a request that we get an Arboriculturist to examine the various trees around the property to which, right, fine. It turns out Structural Engineers and Arboriculturists take their holidays at the same time, and finding a single one in Oxfordshire willing to look at a happy apple tree in the back garden and some distressed lime trees in the neighbour’s was more complicated than we really needed. Eventually I sent an email to everyone within 50 miles on the Arboriculturist Association website – the slightly easier to spell – and got a reply and, eventually, a report.

That one was £540.

It said “Seems fine”.


8: Horse Dentistry or, A Gift Freely Given

Because I’d not had the money in my account for very long, and it had appeared very suddenly, I of course had to go through proof this wasn’t money laundering. The Conveyancers sent – by post, how quaint – a request for my parents to sign effectively an affidavit that they didn’t expect a financial return on the money and it was a gift. Sadly the bit of paper my parents received was to prove someone *else’s* financial situation.

Second time lucky, the Conveyancers sent the right letter next day.

9: Contractual Obligations, or An Avalanche of Paperwork

I have so many bits of paper at this point. Most of them in both PDF and wood-pulp form. I have reports of the flooding in the area (Seems fine), the original land reservations and boundaries (Seems fine), reports on freehold limitations (an Oxford College has Views on what we do with the externalities of our property, but that’s pretty normal for Oxford) and potential forced-purchase reservations (If Churchill Hospital needs to expand, it can go through us). I have Land Registry forms, mortgage insurance forms, life insurance forms, loss of income insurance forms.

The Estate Agents start to worry. Someone up the chain is trying to leave the country and needs to get their affairs sorted before October 14th (This is, I later learn, a Brexit thing). They might pull out if we don’t get this sorted, and suddenly everything shifts into high gear.

10: Numerically Conflicted or, Your Exchange Service Has Crashed

The Conveyancers and the mortgage company work out their differences, and we get the contract packs in order. They send out the documents on Monday to arrive Tuesday, be signed and returned Wednesday, ready for checking and Exchange on Friday. Tuesday arrives and the documents don’t. Post to this house has never worked especially reliably, which is why I suggest they send me the documents to print out and sign. They say no, it has to be paper. Okay then. The Estate Agents phone me every couple of hours to see if the post has been yet. It has not.

Wednesday dawns, and the post arrives mid-morning. The document pack isn’t in it. The Estate Agents are slowly turning purple, which is actually pretty on-brand for them, and remembering the events of Horse Dentistry above – though it was nearly three months prior – I phoned to ask exactly what address they’d sent it to, betting dollars to donuts they’d sent it to the new flat.

Nope. They’d invented a new address out of the house number of our destination with the street and postcode for our current place. I called upon my Boy Scout Training of ringing complete strangers doorbells and asking them for things (the 90s were a hell of a time) and rescued the documents complete with “Not At This Address” label ready to be given back to the postman.

This is the point I also realised that the bottom of my conveyancers’ emails had changed, advertising their brand new office with a brand new address. This, I realised, may have an effect on where I should send the damn documents. So I phoned their reception and asked, and got a brand new address I’d never seen before as the contact address.

We got them signed and witnessed thanks to a nearby friend, Kay, who helped at short notice, then I got them to the Actual Post Office and sent them posted – registered, signed for, next day or I’ll flay you alive service.

I also transferred 10% of the total cost of the house – just over half my deposit – by tapping at my phone for a bit, because the future is terrifying occasionally.

The next day the Estate Agents stopped asking if the documents had arrived with us, and instead phoned every hour to see if our Conveyancers had. They were also phoning the Conveyancers every hour. And the mortgage broker. And I assume – and kind of hope – each other. Eventually the conveyancers admitted that yes, they had arrived.

Also arriving that day: The second set of documents the conveyancers had now sent to the right address.

Friday they started phoning and telling me that the conveyancers hadn’t validated them yet! They were very insistent that this could take ages, and one single mistake could invalidate this whole process and give us no time to exchange or complete! THIS WAS A DISASTER.

We completed on Friday. It was fine.

11: Domino Rally or, Running In The Shadows

We were, as first-time buyers, at the bottom of a chain. At the top was someone trying to just liquidise their assets who was, as mentioned, in a tearing rush. In between was a series of people who needed to, in sequence, get the stuff out of their old house, hand over the keys, receive the money for their old house and then pay for the new house. A lot of this happens on trust – we’re already contracted to do this – but with the twitchy guy at the top of the chain the person managing the chain was in turn very twitchy. During the week between Exchange and Completion everything went very quiet as the conveyancers shuffled paperwork in the background.

I transferred the rest of the deposit, asked if I needed to do anything else (“No”, they said) then popped the remains of the inheritance into a savings account (by, again, tapping on my phone. This time sitting by the Thames). This was also a mistake.

Friday, 16:45, I got an email from the conveyancers titled “COMPLETION STATEMENT SENT” with a bill of nearly £4,000, which needed to be paid in cleared funds before completion could happen on Monday.

I had forgotten about the Conveyancer’s fees and also Stamp Duty (Which doesn’t apply to First Time Buyers for the first £300,000 of your purchase, but did for the remaining £50k). Because my savings account is a “Next working day” for transfers, I was mildly screwed. Eventually I took out an instant £5k loan though Monzo, used it to pay the fees, and then paid it back in full from my savings account on Monday.

12: Our House or, Our Castle and Our Keep

Monday was still tense. Nationwide took their time releasing the funds, and the Estate Agents were on their anxiety symptoms again at the point where we both got a message at the same time.

In fact, the Agent was on the phone to me to see if I had a better number for the Conveyancers when he got a call on the other line which he thought might be them. Putting me on hold, he answered them and then after a short while phoned me on another line (while I was still on hold) to tell me the good news.

It was a confusing day.

Tea. Yesterday.

I finished up my meetings for the day, and then me and fyr took the bus to the Estate Agents to pick up the keys, and from there to our new house. We took with us the traditional kettle, teapot and the mugs I’d bought for this purpose back in 2012 two moves ago, and we sat in the new house and had a nice cup of tea while finding out what keys went in what things.

Then I wrote on the wall.

Appendix: Where Does All The Money Go?

Okay, I’ve been in two minds about doing this, but I think it might be useful for people, so here we go. There might be cheaper or more expensive ways of doing all these things, prices are a guide only:

  • House (3 Bedrooms, North Oxford): £350,000.00
  • Stamp Duty: £2,500 (First Time Buyers rate)
  • Land/Water/Utilities Searches (performed by Conveyancer): £192
  • Land Registry Fee: £135
  • Conveyancer Fees: £952.00 (That’s hiring fee plus various expenses)
  • Arboricultural Report: £540 (Required by Mortgage)
  • Mortgage Broker: £500
  • Mortgage Fees: £999 (Was added on to, and then garnished directly off, the mortgage payment without me ever seeing it)
  • RICS Building Survey £550 (Mortgage included a cheaper survey, but I doubled up because I was – rightly, it turns out – paranoid)
  • Structural Engineer Survey £510 (Required by Mortgage)

Costs coming up:

  • Full service moving (Pack & Move): £900
  • Getting a sparky to check the house isn’t going to burn down: £500
  • Replacing the locks on the doors whose keys no longer work: £60-200 (Should have checked this one)
  • Wiring the place for network (because better now than later): £550.

More New House Adventures – the new series from the writers of New Flat Adventures – coming soon.

Personal Projects

Week 29 – Attack on Box Mountain

Hmm. I may not have actually left the house since the last update, which is a fairly bad state of affairs. Not one I’ll repeat this week.

Most of my free time has been spent attempting forced relaxation (You *will* sit down and play some mindless video games!) after the stress of the last few weeks, and attempting to conquer Box Mountain.

Also, I recreated our new flat in Sims 4, as per the header image.

I’ve mostly defeated Box Mountain in my own room, by the time-honoured method of shoving all the boxes into cupboards and ignoring them. This isn’t a long-term solution, but provides me with some working space, since my room also needs to be an office during the week. Networking’s been fun, since there’s a weird glitch on the wifi where it just stops sending packets every so often, for between ten second and a minute, then resumes as if nothing was wrong. Same was happening over 5Ghz as 2.5Ghz, and from everywhere in the house, which is distressing. This made actually using it close to non-viable, so I started running loose cables. This also being less than optimal, I got some powerline adapters, which is when I learnt that my room’s sockets are on a spur off the Kitchen, not the socket circuit.

Several hours of yak-shaving later, I have a connection, I have a desk, I have an internet. A whole one.

Empire’s coming up, so I’ve dedicated some time to admin around that. It’s my last one crewing until Odyssey’s over, and I’ve got mixed feelings about it.

Development-wise, I spent a while on Retort, my web-based interface to my wifi kettle (which is, of course, written in Flask), which now provides an API to my kettle too, which means I could use it to create statistics on how often its used, and when. This doesn’t seem like a sane thing to do, though, so I haven’t.

I also started some work on learning Angular.js, which seems like a good fit for a couple of things I’m working on – the Skute dashboard, but also a basis for PiracyInc’s front end. So far it seems a bit… magic, tbh. I’m doing complicated stuff in a fifth the code of a native jquery implementation, but I’ve got less of an idea how.

Onwards, however, and upwards.


Week 28 – Welcome to box mountain

It took three vans hired by three people, a medium sized one, a large one, and then a small one.

It took eight people.

It took a week.

We’ve finally moved into Oxford into our new flat. Currently unnamed, but mostly Box Mountain. Next time I consider moving house without hiring a moving company, just shoot me.


Mostly a failure. Shortly after last week’s post, my immune system came up to me with an invoice for lack of down-time and a stop sign. Wednesday/Thursday were lost to ill (and packing boxes, which didn’t help). Friday to recovery and then Ikea (Also not helping). Then the move Saturday/Sunday. Monday I managed to work over a dodgy 3G connection, Tuesday I didn’t even try. Now we have internet.


Tales from the Borderlands, Pillars of Eternity, Dragon Age Inquisition, The Secret World all dropped massive updates this week.  I have played none of them. So. Many. Boxes.


Plugged some holes in some code stuff, a couple of display fixes to the Odyssey management system in prep for the between-games update.

Moved house.

Hopefully this week should be a little more productive…

Computer Games Larp PHP Projects

Week 27 – A Blunderbuss For House Hunting

Last couple of weeks have been a little hectic, and the next couple seem to continue this trend. So:


Shifted to a new primary project at work for the first time in quite a while. Enjoying new challenges, and a more modern codebase to work from. My side of Skute has wound down a bit while others fan the spark a bit, which gives me a chance to plan the next bits for the API.


Still going though SWTOR, mostly. I’ve not had a lot of playtime.


Moving House

We have the keys to the new flat, big move is this weekend. We moved a few dozen boxes yesterday (Thanks Dan & Jenny for being awesome). Between that and Odyssey, I’m mildly dead now.


I’m a head ref for Odyssey, and work closely with the Story team to help everything go smoothly, and one of the things that didn’t go smoothly last time was our “Blessings” system – the system by which we add reactionary special statuses to characters (Blessings from their Gods, Curses, Long term effects of magic spells, transformation into bloodless monsters, Roleplay effects, Extra hitpoints, everything). Previously we worked with a somewhat Heath-Robinson contraption built of Excel and Access-based PDF generation.

Previously, I built a system called Mimir, which tracks the kudos priests and other characters can earn with their gods. We’re a more narrative-based than stats-based game, so the numbers get fudged a lot, but it’s a decent guideline. It’s also got a fairly fully-featured blogging engine, which is for debriefs.

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 15-45-00_croppedMy last couple of weeks not-working time has been spent extending and expanding that a lot. Folding in an Autocomplete library that linked to the current list of active players and the Blessing system (complete with three-stage approval process and player-facing PDF generation), and then a general once-over on the design has swallowed a lot of my coding time.

When I built it originally a few years ago, I built it in PHP (because I wanted to be able to make quick changes on the fly during an event) using a custom lightweight microframework, and Idiorm/Paris as the database/ORM model. I’m slightly surprised how well that’s held up. I didn’t need to edit the framework at all for this major revision, and Idiorm & Paris worked really well for me. The frontend’s built in Bootstrap, which gives me style without much effort – though I do need to bite the bullet and shift up to v3 – and I’ll be releasing it as Open Source once Odyssey is over, alongside graphs and statistics generated from the actual dataset.

I should put up another post later on about how well Odyssey went, but now I should be getting ready for work.

(Header photo: A Greek Shield Wall, at Odyssey. Photo by Charlotte Moss for Profound Decisions)


New Flat Adventures Renews for a 4th series

I moved to London in January 2007. I’d quit my job in Bedford with nothing really to go for, save a feeling that it was time to move on, and got a job for Hotxt (later Trutap) in London the next day or so. Since then I’ve had some of the best employment experiences, and some of the worst. I’ve worked with startups primed to go global, startups on a dark and cynical path to oblivion, and startups with a hope and plan for the future that was just out of reach for them. I’ve even worked for established companies.

But last month, the new build houses where my garden used to be went on sale for £750,000. Eight months ago our rent went up by ~10%. At the end of September it’ll do so by another ~10%. I’m a software developer, earning a decent – if not excessive – wage, and I’m being rapidly priced out of the top quarter of the tube map. London house prices, and unregulated rent, are now completely too bad for me to deal with.

I love London a lot. Apart from the town I grew up in, it’s the place I’ve lived longest, and I’ll be sad to see it go.

But last Wednesday we wandered up to Oxford, and spoke to an estate agent directly out of central casting, and he took us to some expensive and tiny places. Then we went to the flat of a friend of a friend and… well, now we have a flat in Oxford.

It’s not all sunshine. Whoever told me (over the phone, annoyingly) that I could break out of the contract with the current place with 30 days notice was not entirely accurate, so we have to hope someone picks it up from viewings this month, otherwise we’re liable for another month’s rent on top while the contract expires. Our new Landlady needs to finish up doing up the new place, but that does mean I won’t be trying to move in the two weeks before Odyssey, so small mercies…


New Flat Adventures – Season 3, Episode 2: In Hot Water

From the middle of December 2010 until January 2011, our old flat’s boiler didn’t work very well. I’ve gone on about the problems with this at length elsewhere, but it culminated in a massive, epic Scott-of-the-antarctic journey in the run up to Christmas to try and buy a halogen heater in the middle of a snowstorm, which I completely and entirely failed to write up. I should do that.

During this time, I spent a great deal of time in the company of Vlad the Installer, plumber extraordinaire, and his dedication to spending as much time as possible – at fixed cost – making the damn thing work. The next year, when the boiler fell over again, Vlad was ill and so another company came to look at it. They had neither the wit or patience of Vlad, and so declared it dead and invoiced for a new one, fixing the entire problem in four hours flat.

There is an important fable in there about dedication, patience, and the knowledge of when to give up, but that is not what came to mind when I arrived at the new flat this afternoon for delivery of the white goods to find a plumber on my doorstep waiting for me.

He was here because the boiler doesn’t work. Because it’s a 4 day national holiday, it’s going to be Wednesday until we get heating and hot water.



New Flat Adventures – Season 3, Episode 1, The Key To A Successful Move

I bought a new kettle yesterday.

There is a tradition that when I get to a new house, the first thing I do when I have the keys is go inside and make a cup of tea. This has happened every move since Bedford (Which is five), but was actually started with my very first flat of my own in Sunderland. So I bought a box of tea-bags in my lunch break on Friday, preordered a kettle and some cheap mugs in Argos at the same time, and picked them and a bottle of milk up on the way to Palmers Green where the estate agent is.

The flat is lovely. In total it’s smaller than our current place, but the kitchen is nicer. Also, it’s twenty minutes by bus from work, which is an improvement on twenty minutes to the first of two trains to work. It’ll gain me about three hours a day of extra life, which is worthwhile.

So me and Fyr went to sign the contracts, and in return for a great deal of money got a small set of keys to borrow for a year. Quite a small set of keys, in fact, because instead of being two full sets of keys for the house, it was in fact three quarters of a set of house-keys, four duplicate window keys and three duplicate mailbox keys. This is mostly fine, as keys we have can be duplicated.

The problem is, of course, in the fourth of the three quarters. For we have a deadlock key for the flat door, and we have a key for the back door, and we even have a yale key for the flat door. We do not, however, have a key for the building door, and it looks like the landlord’s phone number is office hours only.

Of course, from the back door we can access the front door, so it’s not a massive problem, but still. Keys would, generally, be handy.


Adventures in Gymnasia

(This was written last night, and then I forgot to post it)

The important thing about gaining fitness is to make it part of your routine, I’m told. At the conclusion of the prologue to this adventure I narrowly avoided joining a gym. They were going though a restructure of their prices, and a few days later my sunny and proactive rep emailed though to say she’d got the new prices together, and I should book another free session so we could go over them. So I did. Then I didn’t make it because I had a deadline, and then I didn’t make the next one because I forgot my PE kit, and eventually me, my PE kit and my schedule all lined up in a neat little row on a Monday near to the end of December…

…and I was suddenly very glad I didn’t have a gym contract, as I no longer had a job to fund it. Then it was christmas, and while we do have a gym below our block of flats it’s all the way over there. Plus, I’m not entirely 100% confident in how to use them without accidentally recreating iconic loony tunes moments. I have small wooden signs with “Oh dear” and “I suspect this is going to hurt” prepared for these occasions.

New Employers are talking about free gym memberships, which will be nice, but with some calculation I realised a few days ago that while it currently takes me an hour and a half to get to work in North Finchley by bus/train/train/bus, it would take only about half an hour longer than that to walk to Turnpike Lane and get the same final bus. Today, I arbitrarily decided on leaving work that I would do this today. Deciding shortly afterwards that a better and possibly saner idea would be to do about half of it today, bus the other half, and see how much my legs hate me in the morning. So, iPhone loaded with a walking route and a three hour radio show about Spike Milligan to keep me entertained, I set out.

It was fine, handily. If I hadn’t stopped at the “I’ll bus from here” point to do some shopping, I’d have been happy to walk the rest of the way, I think. We’ll see how this turns in to tomorrow when my feet settle their oncoming debt, but it seems like a nice way to earn a couple of hundred Fitocracy points ever few days. And maybe – whisper who dares – I might end up buying a bicycle, and join the elite and superior race of beings who cycle though London. Not yet, though. I’m not crazy.

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Boilers and the tyranny of "but it works"

So, our flat’s been out of heating for a week or so. Long term readers will remember our current boiler has never been the most logical of devices. About a year ago it entirely packed up, and various attempts to fix it by our Intrepid Plumber got us hot water but still no heating. For that December (2010), he came around about once every few days, spent a few hours trying a new possible solution to the continuing problem, replacing bits and pieces, fixing stuff with washers and duct tape, and generally roping the thing into some kind of order that would last long enough and be tickable as “Fixed” and to, importantly, enable us to not freeze. The pump got replaced, the control panel which I spent so much time blogging about was bypassed by a new digital interface, and it eventually all came back on, sometime in January last year.

Two weeks ago, when it failed again (when it was snowing, obviously), back came the Intrepid Plumber to fix and screw and replace bits and pieces of the boiler, saying how it needed to be flushed though, and got it back just about working having manually twiddled the filter.

Saturday it died again in exactly the same way. Intrepid Plumber wasn’t well, so our landlord’s agent sent a new company they hadn’t used before. New company took one look at it, listened to what happened when it was turned on (Thunk rattle rattle rattle, *thunk* rattle rattle, *thunk*, [pause], *PHWEEEEEEEEEEEE* as the steam safety valve does its best Ivor the Engine impression). And said, in effect, “Okay, that’s fucked. I’m going to call in for a new one” (By which point it was Wednesday, because the wheels of higher beings turn more slowly than for those without hot water). So, at quarter to eight on this Friday morning I’m waiting for the plumbers to arrive with the new boiler we probably needed a year ago.

(There’s a bit more complication, as our 17th storey status  means that installing a new boiler isn’t exactly trivial if they need to expand the flue, but they appear to have got around the original quote of needing to build scaffolding all the way.)

To drag this back to a relevant point, instead of waffling about boilers, the central problem was that once the dodgy boiler was “fixed” to the point where it provided hot water and heating, all the impetus to do anything further to shore up the system had faded away. My Landlord wasn’t massively willing to throw another few hours of Plumber time on something that was clearly working, and I wasn’t going to push them a lot further because I have better things to do during the working week than harrass my Landlord’s agents into fixing a working system.

Development suffers the same problem. Once a system is up and working, even if some of the ways that happened aren’t ideal, it’s quite hard to justify going back and risking breaking system for the somewhat arbitary goal of making it “better”. There will always be time to scale it, to refactor it, to reindex it, later. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Until eventually you’re sitting in a cold flat without having been able to have a shower for a week with a heater that might as well run by burning five pound notes.

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I was asleep.

It’s been a long week, and going back to bed at midday seemed like the best option. However, real life had other ideas, and so, there was a knock at the door.

“Hi. Are you Nicholas Avenell?”
“Er, yes.”
“I live next door, we keep on getting Virgin Media bills addressed to you. We’ve tried phoning them and getting them to change the address, but maybe you’d have more luck”
“That’s odd. I’ve also been getting Virgin Media bills.”
“We’ve been getting ours too.”
“Strange. Thanks, I’ll give them a ring.”

So I found an piece of paper with my account number on it and phoned the number. When we moved here (in Juneish) I transferred the existing account to the new flat. I should point out that VM were calm, courteous and helpful though the following exchange, and the use of lolcat is a grave disservice to them. However:

“Hai. I can has accont number ant passward?”
“The password is ‘*******'”
“Hai. Dis is support, I am support cat. Your troubles, show them to me”
“I have this bill. My neighbours are also getting this bill. Please fix this.”
“Hokay. Plz hold.”

(I am put though a rendition of a White Stripes single that has been subjected to the kind of compression that makes sound engineers become alcoholics)

“Hokay. Can haz account number?”
“Can has neighbours address?”
“Can has your address?”
“Hold plz”

(Once again, another otherwise innocent tune is ground into dust before my ears)

“I dose not understand. Supervisor does not understand. Manager does not understand. Nobodi understands me. Woe.”
“Hmm. Okay, I’m going to see if I can dig out one of my old bills to see how long this has been going on”
“Hold please”

(The supportdrone is put though the kind of silence that people who have been put through Virgin’s hold music long for)

“Hmm. So I have two bills in front of me. One has my address, the other my neighbours. One has account number , the other account number ”
“Found anything?”
“Invisible disconnection! Both accounts still active!”

And then I was escalated with the force of a thousand rockets, or – more obviously – at the force of the discovery that someone has been quite staggeringly incompetent and hoping to hell it wasn’t them. Support forwarded me to Home Moving. Home Moving forwarded me to Collections. Collections forwarded me to someone with a name. Turns out when I “transferred” my account, they actually just duplicated my existing account with the new address, and didn’t shut down the old one. Also, due to another screwup, the new billing address for the old account – which I’d given as a “final bill” address – went to my neighbours. I have been paying twice for the last nine months or so (I didn’t notice because it’s Direct Debit, and they come out sufficiently far apart in the month that they’re on separate pages of the statement. I need to pay more attention).

I am getting a large cheque. Today could be worse