Counting the cost of being an Expatriate.
I have returned to England and from now on I shall spend more time here than in Brazil. But right now I am having to count the cost of being an expat. Stacked up against being married to my most gorgeous and close friend, Fatima, the costs are overwhelmingly outweighed but, nevertheless, they have been a revelation and, as of the beginning of this week, an utter shock. Let me take you through in chronological order (but if you cannot wait to reveal the shock, you will have to scroll down a few paragraphs.) I have been back about ten days and it has been a hectic and stressful time.
Let me start with the house. I decided to rent the house out, since at the outset I was not sure how long I would be gone but knew it would be at least long enough for it to prove a problem if it were left empty and uninsurable, having to leave a relative or friend with the responsibility of visiting from time to time to check for frozen pipes and floods (as had happened when I was in Brazil for just a couple of months previously!)
As it happens, the house stood empty for just over two months before the first tenant arrived, and I was concerned it may reach the three month uninsurable stage. But the first tenant was a single young lady with a young child, a “nice” tenant according to the Letting Agents. (Phew, so far so good). She stayed a few months but then apparently found a boyfriend with a house, so, understandably, she moved out. Back to worrying about the house being empty, but the Letting Agent found another tenant within a couple of weeks. A single youngish man apparently, quiet and pleasant according to neighbours` reports – Phew, again, I should stop worrying!
No, sorry, let me cut the bull***t and get straight to the point. Amusing as it can be made to seem, you probably do not really want to hear how disgustingly dirty the last tenant left the house, nor do you really want to know that at some time during the occupation of the first tenant my expensive, nearly new, large capacity, rotary mower went walkabout. Was it her or one of her boyfriends – I shall never know.
Frankly, I need to get the most important information out there, just to try and get my life back, and, sadly, I mean that pretty literally. Let me explain.
When we left the house in 2011 we put a lot of stuff into storage. Barnes storage in North Hykeham, the place of my birth, operating out of what they enchantingly call their “Fort Barnes” warehouse.
In order that you fully grasp what has happened I need briefly to say that when they picked the stuff up I gave them my, then, email address, my English mobile phone number which I took with me to Brazil, and told them clearly that, if there were any problems they should, anyway, write to my UK address because I had arranged to have the mail redirected, so that it would reach me in Brazil. And that my stay in Brazil would be temporary, not permanent.
You need also to know that my English phone died on me three years ago, my laptop died just over two years ago and when I got a new laptop I changed my Newarkwireless email address to a Gmail address letting pretty well everyone know it had changed. Now, it IS just possible that I neglected to tell Barnes of this, although, because my phone had died, and because Skype was, by then, so easy and inexpensive to use to phone England I had several conversations with the administrator at Barnes and I am fairly confident I told her of the change of email address. My Skype had been set up here in the UK, so the system thought my laptop was here and charged very little for calls “within” the country – for example I recall having an hour long conversation with my bank here for something like ten pence, ridiculously cheap, but I digress! Back to the main issue.
I was a little perturbed by the fact that Barnes continued to use my Newarkwireless email address to send invoices but, really it did not seem a significant problem, certainly not one to worry about (or so I thought!). The Newarkwireless address used Outlook although there were glitches with it (it kept delivering duplicate emails to me, for example, and the outgoing emails would not leave the system for some inexplicable reason.) I even had the internet service provider take over my computer, from thousands of miles away, a couple of times to try and put it right. It would work OK, then, for a little while but soon revert to being glitchy, so I simply got used to using my Gmail address all the time, just popping in to the Newarkwireless address every so often to check for important incoming emails I needed to action – including, of course, the Barnes`s invoices, which I would copy and place in a financial file about my English property. OK, please hold that thought as I proceed.
My “recollection” from four years ago was that I had arranged a Direct Debit at the bank with Barnes to collect the monthly storage bill, but it turns out I had arranged that they would take the money from one of my credit cards on a monthly basis. No matter, the net result was the same for me, they were paid every month, and I did not need to worry about payments NOT being made, until….
OOOPS – WRONG! Just how infernally wrong can a person get.
…. my credit card needed renewing. This was an automatic process from the point of view of my credit card provider, everything went smoothly, a new card arrived by redirected mail and everything was hunky dorey (or so I thought). But it wasn`t: the arrangement by which Barnes got their monthly money needed the facility updating apparently because the three digit security code on the back changed, as it turns out.
Barnes now tell me they communicated this to me by email, but I am not at this point clear whether I ever saw that email. I suppose it is a possibility, but I have no recollection of seeing it, as I am pretty sure I would have reacted to it and fulfilled the requirement. That would have been in October or November of last year, 2014 and the email would have gone to my Newarkwireless email address. You know, the one with the problems!
Barnes have now sent me a copy of this email and I cannot doubt it was sent, but because the inbox has been erratic, I have no way of knowing whether the email was there in October, nor can I be certain-sure that I did not see it at the time. The relevant point here is that I did not react to it.
The result is that the bill did not get paid in October, or November, or…. But I was not aware of this fact. Now we hit the real nub of the communication problem and it is to do with my Newarkwireless email account. At this point in time (30th June 2015) in that account I have an email containing an invoice for November, the next Barnes email is early March and the next is early April. These are just invoices and there are no other emails. Really, not one.
Each invoice shows the amount of the monthly bill, around £90 and there is a box on the left hand side of the invoice which says [PAYMENTS RECEIVED THROUGH THE BANK IN MARCH 2015 HAVE ALREADY BEEN ALLOCATED TO THIS ACCOUNT]. I have interpreted that as me having paid the previous month and assumed that was OK – but apparently Barnes reason for putting it there is to say “IF you paid anything the previous month it WILL HAVE been accounted for”. To say this is ambiguous wording is, I believe, not far from the mark. Barnes subsequently, on Tuesday, pointed out to me that the same invoice had a line (in a SMALLER typeface, would you believe!) showing the outstanding amount each month, below the normal monthly amount. But I simply did not see it, no doubt partly because I simply was not expecting to see it – I thought all was fine. Good gracious how wrong can one be!?
The crucial factor is that all of those emails that had apparently been sent warning me of the state of play (between December and February) and, eventually, of the dire consequences if I did not pay the bill, did not ever reach my Newarkwireless email account. I do not know why, I am not technically competent to even attempt an answer to that one, but the warning emails did not enter my purview, period. Sadly, Barnes did not think to write to my English address even though all my post was still being redirected.
Well, the long and the short of it is that they apparently sent me a “Final Notice” in April that they would have to sell my belongings – they assumed I was dead – and sometime in June they carried out that dastardly act and sent my “life” to auction.
Let me just list a few of the items that were in storage. There was an upright piano that was probably not worth very much money but I loved playing it, my father, mother and grandfather all played it too and it dates back to about the 1880s. It has been at the centre of many family and friendly parties over the last 130-140 years. GONE!
A fine mahogany sideboard, which has graced my home for about forty years and dates from about the same time as the piano. GONE!
A very lovely oil painting of “Balloons over Paris”, which I bought my first wife for a birthday present when I was feeling well off, after some consultancy payment, and which would have been a family heirloom for the next generation. GONE!
A beautiful picture of a giraffe, painted in oil, which my first wife bought for my 60th birthday when we were caravanning in France, which everyone thought was lovely (we called her Gertie!) GONE!
A huge photograph of my great-grandfather, which must have cost a fortune at the time (about 1890) which hung over our stairs, maintaining watch over the family. GONE! Perhaps for a pound or two in a furniture auction! Irreplaceable.
A lovely silver pocket watch belonging to my mother`s father, with a tiny picture of him in an attached locket in the fob. GONE! Irreplaceable.
A Noritake dinner service, bought by parents for my wedding to Tricia in 1971 and the silver handled cutlery set, also a wedding present. GONE!
Crystal glasses, family videos, the whole collection of LPs and 45s from Elvis Presley and Tommy Steele and the Beatles onwards. GONE!
Sadly I could go on with the list for quite a while, but, I think by now, you have got the gist of this. Barnes Storage, of Fort Barnes in North Hykeham, have sold my life for a bill which had mounted up to the huge (!?) figure of £527.
They sold my life in a furniture sale as far as I can gather, probably fetching pennies for things that were invaluable to me and totally irreplaceable, so if anybody out there in Blog-reading world has very recently bought a painting of “Balloons over Paris” or a picture of Gertie the Giraffe, or a slightly out of tune piano with the little screw holes where candle-holders were once attached, can I have them back please, I will gladly re-imburse you the purchase price and arrange collection from your home, or your antique or bric-a-brac shop. Please do not sell them on if you are a dealer and if you are a collector of such items and you see anything matching my descriptions, do please, get in touch with me and I will dash around and rescue said items before they disappear into someone else`s life.
Of all the possible costs associated with being a temporary expatriate, this outcome is probably the least expected, most shocking, devastating personal and financial loss one can imagine. I am, as people are wont to say, “Gutted”, eviscerated, gob-smacked, shocked and, above all VERY sad.
There is a financial element too, of course, because at least some of the items, such as cutlery and sheets and duvets and a really nice coat I bought for my Brazilian wife when she had to come into the cold English winter a few years ago, will need replacing. Also I dare say I might eventually have cashed in a picture or two in a Fine Art sale (certainly not a cheap furniture sale!) but that is unlikely to happen now.
But the overwhelming feeling is a sense of personal loss, equivalent to that felt by someone whose house has just burnt down, or been burgled, or hit by an asteroid. It is ineffably sad.
If you live in Lincoln or Lincolnshire and you collect antiques and know of any of the above; or, if you know people in Lincolnshire who do, can you spread the message that my life is out there somewhere and if anyone recognises bits of it can you let me know, either here or direct to my email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. And please pass this on to anyone you think might remotely know about recent furniture sales in the Lincoln area. Thank you.
Some Good news!
I was just about to push the button to publish this post when I received an email from Barnes to say that two items were NOT sold at auction. A box of paperwork (no idea what that may be – but good!) and MY PIANO! Woo-Hoo! I just need the piano stool back as well. The second item of good news is that a little detective work by my brother has revealed the auctioneer used. So, anyone out there who has been buying stuff at Unique Auctions of Whisby on either June 3rd or June 10th will have seen my property go under the hammer. for example you may have seen this set of French pots which my first wife, Tricia, and I built up from visits to France over many years. So much personal time and love involved in building this collection and whoosh, it disappears in the knock of an auctioneers hammer. I would love to recover the set if I can.