We hope our issues with our previous landlord are now resolved.  At least, we hope that the electric company will honour their word and not come after us for the unpaid bill, which all, except the landlord, have agreed is the landlord’s responsibility.

We have dealt with so many people throughout the course of our dispute, and each one seems to give different advice.  It was extremely confusing and every time we talked to a new person, we had to describe everything from start to finish.  “Frustrating” is an understatement.

But, in the process, we have learned a few lessons.  Lesson number one: we need to be more aggressive.  It wasn’t that we just let everyone walk all over us.  We tried not to be a pain, so we didn’t whine and complain about everything.  We reported problems when we needed to and left it up to the agents and landlord to work out what needed to be done.  Unfortunately, neither showed any inclination to fix any problems.  They blamed each other when it came down to figuring out what went wrong where.  Lesson number two: due diligence.  Don’t rely on someone else’s word for it, do it yourself.  Lesson number three: the Brits have an “I don’t want to get involved” attitude.  We get the sense that most Brits don’t want to give third party advice unless they are in alliance with you for some personal gain.  For example, we considered getting someone close to the landlord to reason with him, but felt that we would be given the cold shoulder.  Lesson number four: know who to turn to.

This last one could be tricky.  Everyone tells you to go to the CAB for advice.  We had gone to them several times during the course of our stay, but nothing useful was forthcoming.  They can be helpful in many areas, but in our case, it seemed they were at a loss.  It wasn’t until our account came up to the Live Debt department at the electric company that someone came up with a solution (though we cannot be certain that the issue is resolved yet).  They’ve decided to proceed with a power shut-off to force the landlord’s hand.  (Apparently, they wouldn’t do it if we were still living there.)  So, the higher up the ladder you move, the more ideas you can come up with.

But, in the midst of all this, we found out through the RAC Legal Aid that we should have reported our landlord to the council.  Apparently, it is not just for social housing landlords.  Had we done so, we could have had an independent appraisal of the situation, and we could have had a refund on our rent.  Perhaps, that would have also helped us to deal with the electric issue.  Lesson learned.  Hopefully, we won’t go there again.

Several times now, we have pulled up to hotels looking for a room (because we don’t book ahead when our plans are flexible) only to be told that they were full, or did not have the rooms we were looking for.  As a family of four, we need a family room.  Health and Safety would not allow them to permit kids to stay with their parents unless adequate beds are available.  Furthermore, most places in the UK still charge per person, even children (sometimes with discounts).  However, the chain hotels (mostly US-owned) will charge per room.

I have been pleased, though, that when these hotels are full, they are extremely helpful to the stranded motorists.  The desk clerk will usually do one of two things: refer you to a local B&B that may have vacancies, or more often, they will actually get on the phone and call around for you.  I cannot tell how many times we’ve travelled overnight in the US and stopped at every exit to check the hotels.  So, I am very grateful when these clerks take the hassle out of driving needlessly in search of a bed.

Unlike in the US, you do not have large billboards advertising hotels/motels/B&Bs all over the place.  You have to look out for the brown signs with the beds on them, not knowing what you might get (reminds me of Vermont).  And you might not have these at every exit, so there is a lot of guesswork involved if you do not have your travel plans all worked out.

When we went to Holyhead this weekend, we ran into a wedding party that had booked up several hotels within a five mile radius.  We had set a time limit on driving, so we didn’t want to keep moving.  The hotel receptionist was extremely helpful, calling several places up and even calling back with questions, etc.  Her supervisor even printed up directions to one of the places.  Unfortunately, our daughters came in to use the toilets and wanted to stay.  So, after all that help, which I really appreciated, we ended up taking two rooms at the hotel to comply with Health and Safety regulations.  Unfortunately, it cost more than we wanted to spend.

The kids’ holiday is almost at an end.  Because it is so short, compared to what they are used to, we really had to take them to a lot of places to compensate.  Yesterday, was probably the most jam-packed day we’ve had. They wanted to go to Scotland and the Isle of Wight this year.  We already did Scotland and northern England (I have yet to write about it) and yesterday, we went to the Isle of Wight.

The weather forecast had said “sunny intervals”, which usually means a mix of sun and clouds.  We were supposed to have rain Monday and Wednesday.  Well, it didn’t rain on Monday.  It came in early Tuesday morning.  However, it cleared up by the time we arrived in the IOW.  Driving through the downs of West Sussex, however, the clouds were worrying.

We took one of those humongous car ferries over.  When you see the number of cars and lorries crossing, you think to yourself, “How in the world will all these get on there?”, but once you drive through, it looks a little like a multi-storey car park.  It also explains why it takes 40 minutes to cross the Channel.  The kids have been on boats before, but not on a ferry like this, so it was a new adventure.  It was quite windy sitting on the deck, so we moved inside.  The rain came and went, forcing people in and out, several times.

Osborne_House_View_From_Rear_240
Gardens at Osborne House

Our first stop of the day was Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s family retreat, now an English Heritage property.  Parking was free, even for nonmembers.  We didn’t see all of it, because we wanted to make our way around the island, but we could have stayed all day.  The house was absolutely wonderful, though many rooms were unavailable.  But, like many of these stately homes, you have to line up as you walk around all the open rooms.  You cannot just view things at your leisure, and it would have been difficult with so many people.  Although, I must say it was not as crowded as when we went to Windsor Castle over 10 years ago.  We also went inside the Walled Garden.  Though the blooms were on their way out for most of them, it was still very nice.  I loved being around the fragrant flowers, especially the lavender.  They had several kinds of apples and pears growing in alternate trellises.  The highlight of this garden was when I spotted a hummingbird.  It was so small I thought it was a large bee at first.  But it made no buzzing and as I approached I could see the fluttering of the wings as it flitted from flower to flower.  My husband took several pictures and I hope at least one turns out well.  It was very difficult keeping up with it.  We did not take the little carriage ride, nor visit the Swiss House or walk all around the grounds.  The views across the Solent were absolutely wonderful.  Parts of the ground have been given over to a golf club.  We also learned that as members, we could book a cottage on the grounds, but there is an 18 month to 2 year waiting list.  Wow!  Like we can ever plan that far in advance.

We took the main road that forms a ring around the island.  We did not stop in Yarmouth, though it looked like a very nice town to visit.  Instead we went on into Alum Bay.  That was a mistake in a way, but we learned for next time.  Alum Bay is very touristy.  That says it all.  We paid to park – not too bad if you planned to stay all day, but with “one price fits all”, it was not ideal for us.  From there you could walk up a steep hill and get a great view of the entire place, or even visit the old Battery at the end, which is now a National Trust property.  They have monopolised the area, so that if you are a member, or willing to pay, you could get in and get good views and good pictures.  The kids did not want to do much walking, so we went into the center of the little tourist hot spot, where they had amusements and shops.  We wanted to walk down to the beach, but the kids saw the chairlift and wanted to ride down on it.  It was again more money out (we always like to limit our expenditure on unnecessaries).  At first we couldn’t see a footpath to the beach (it was cleverly hidden).  On our way down the chairlift, we could see the path and it may have been arduous, but it looked like a nice walk.  Anyhow, the kids enjoyed the little adventure and the thrill as we made a steep drop down.  It was quite windy at the top (several people lost their hats) and they both got a little scared.  The view of the Needles as we rode on the lift was amazing, but we couldn’t get any pictures.  we were told there was not much beach because it was high tide.  There was very little room to move, but we saw the coloured sands of the cliffs – shades of red/pink/yellow/white/green.  After riding back up (we had a moment when the lift stopped and we were at the very top), my husband went on his own to the top of the hill and took some pictures, while I stayed in the car with the kids while they ate some hot soup.  I should mention that every time I passed the candy shop there, I could smell the candy.  They must make it on site.  I didn’t want to explore it because I know the kids would have wanted some, and we really have to cut down on their sweets.  Next time, we would park in the free car park in Totland and take the bus up to the top, explore, and walk back down into the town.  It would have been more of an adventure and encouraged the kids to do more physical exercise.  Of course, we would need better walking shoes.

The older one wanted a sandy beach to play on, so we drove on, enjoying the wonderful scenery of countryside and seaside as we went from the western edge to the southern tip and around to the east.  We stopped in Shanklin and they ran around the sand like crazy kids just released from bondage, making sandcastles and digging for treasure.  Despite the chilly wind and the late afternoon/early evening hours, I was surprised to find that the water was quite warm.  When we lived in New Hampshire, I don’t think the water ever got warm.  And, in England, I have found that the water may not be very cold, but I couldn’t describe is as warm.  Afterwards, they played in the amusements, had a bit of dinner and we were on our way again.

It was getting dark, but our ferry was leaving very late.  We stopped at Ryde and while the kids played on the sand, my husband took some night shots of Portsmouth, lit up across the channel.  Then we walked around the little paddling pond where they had swan boats and literally, dozens of swans making their residence.  The swans swam towards us as we walked (they must have hoped for food) and our younger daughter got scared.  She is easily frightened.  It didn’t help that we saw a big rodent walking along the edge of the pond, then running into the grass.  We also saw another rodent popping its head in and out of one of the holes in the grassy verge along the pond.  I wouldn’t want to be that person we saw sleeping in one of the benches.

We were tired but the kids wanted to continue playing on the sands. We debated waiting out for our ferry or arriving early and seeing if we could cross.  Either way, we’d be arriving home very late, but it was a two-hour difference.  We tried to call the ferry office, but they had just closed.  They allowed one free change of itinerary, but after that there was a small administrative charge.  We chanced it and arrived early.  We had no difficulty getting on.  This time, we were aboard a newer designed ferry with TV screens showing ads for the Isle of Wight. It seemed to help pass the time.  The kids were still playful, but by the time we got out of the port, they were asleep.  They were tired and a little sad that the little injured butterfly, that they picked up in the grounds of Osborne House and named Leopard and tried to revive with a piece of grape, finally died.  They had carried this butterfly all around with them all day and refused to let it go.  We reached home at about the same time we would have arrived at the port had we waited for our ferry.  We were exhausted and went directly to bed, after carrying the sleeping kids in, nearly 19 hours since I woke up.

We didn’t do everything we would have liked, but we had a little taste of what the island offered.  Next time, we’d need several days, possibly a week.

How can you cut down on your costs of moving?  These are some lessons we’ve learned.

1.  Don’t move.  That’s simple enough and several times during the moving process, we did think about calling the whole thing off.

2.  Sell off everything and just take your clothes and whatever can fit in your suitcases. 

3.  DIY.  No, I don’t mean carry your entire shipment onto the plane (that would be terribly expensive) or ship.  You can only do this if you own your own plane or ship.  But, you can pack your own belongings.  This can be tricky, as you’ll read further.  But, it will definitely save you some money and a headache.  We had used a moving company once for an interstate move.  We did most of the packing, but they arrived early and ended up “helping” to pack.  What they did was open up some boxes and threw whatever they could find into it.  This is called “professional” packing services.  Therefore, for the international move, we used our “amateur” packing techniques, which included bubble wrapping and cushioning using our own clothes.  But, at least, we knew where everything was.  We labelled the outside of the box and made a list, numbering each box and giving a little more detail of its contents.  Using the company’s services meant you had to pay for the labour and supplies.  The cost varies from company to company.  The downside to DIY is that you are responsible for the contents.  The movers will still make their own list and the boxes need to state their contents.  Some movers require that you leave the boxes opened so they can inspect them.  Some companies, such as IntlMove, will not provide insurance cover for damages if you do any part of the packing yourself.  So, either allow them to damage your goods and you can claim for them later (if they’ll even acknowledge your complaint) or pack it yourself.  Some will allow you to deliver the goods to the docks, if you live nearby.  You do have to check with the companies.

4. Insurance?  As I stated, if you pack your own goods, some will only cover for total loss, not damage.  That means if they lose your shipment, you can claim against them.  We figured, unless the ship sinks, we should receive our goods, damaged or not, so we waived the insurance.  We found out later that everyone recommends you take the insurance.  I don’t see how that could have helped us.  I doubt they could adequately compensate for the loss.  After all, most of our goods had sentimental value, rather than monetary value.

5. Don’t go with the cheapest.  As we’ve learned, IntlMove gave one of the cheapest quotes, but in the end, we paid for a lot of “extras”.  We were lucky, however, since we actually received our shipment.  Others were not so fortunate.  I hope they took out insurance.