Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Good riddance 2017 !

My apologises for this post, if you find it long and boring I apologise but writing it has helped me reduce the frustrations of the past year living largely on land and to look forward to happier times in the coming year.

It has been a long time since I have posted …..a very long time. Events on 25th March 2017 will forever be  firmly planted in my brain! 
John and I were enjoying our time in Isla Mujeres, meeting up with old friends, Richard and Kay on Atalanta and Vlad and Carmen on Inti. However, all good things come to an end and we were preparing to sail for Key West and a decent weather window seemed to be developing for us on the Monday after that particular weekend. We never got to set sail, events overtook us when I got a text message from Michael, my tenant ….’ Explosion, house destroyed ‘ !!! Clear, precise and as it turned out, accurate! I tried to phone, no answer and when I finally got through to Vicky, his girl friend, she told me that the house had been severely damaged by an explosion in a building over the road. It was a furniture store and dance studio building that had been completely obliterated by an explosion. It looked like a gas explosion but no one could say….the first thought was obviously was it terrorist related. Michael had been dozing in the front room and his son Alex was asleep upstairs when all the windows imploded, the doors blew out the roof lifted and ceilings came down. Fortunately Alex had wrapped himself up in the duvet and so when the ceiling fell on him he was well protected, Michael rushed upstairs grabbed Alex and ran through the open front door and away from the carnage outside.

So there I was in Mexico, with a five hour time difference, needing to contact my insurance company that allegedly had a 24 hour contact service……they speak with forked tongue… and try as I might you cannot imagine my frustration at reaching a succession of voice messages  telling me the office is now closed and to ring in the morning! There was nothing for it but to get up at three in the morning and try then. However my frustration persisted, the young man gave me a reference number and yet another number to ring to try to board up the house and make it safe. I rang the number and explained to the girl on the other end that I had no windows, the front and back door had been blown off their hinges and the roof had been damaged. ‘ Ahh’ she said, ‘ you need a locksmith!’ …she was astounded when I lost my cool at this response ‘ A locksmith?! What's the bloody point of that I've got no doors!’ She apologised and after going to talk to her manager she told me she didn't know what to suggest…..very helpful …not. 
After two days I was no further on …. and my frustration was just growing hour by hour. It was obvious to John and I that we would be sailing nowhere and I would need to return back to the UK as soon as possible.  


I watched our friends sail away together, waving them goodbye and not sure just when we would eventually leave Mexico. I booked my flight home and John set about finding somewhere safe we could leave the boat. The hurricane season was fast approaching and we had no idea how long we would be away. We are fortunate, our friends Vlad and Carmen on Inti, speak fluent Spanish and they were able to help us secure a spot in the lagoon, Marina Del Sol. We moved Orion into the lagoon before I left. The lagoon is very well protected and shallow! I had to drive , throttle down, through the soft mud… thing for sure, Orion will not sink, in those depths! 
I left Mexico on the 29th March but not without a bit of drama at the airport. When you arrive in  Mexico you have to jump through many hoops customs, importation of the boat, agricultural regs etc, a bind but not too onerous with the help of the locals. One of the numerous pieces of paper you sign is in effect your entry exit card. I arrived at Cancun airport checked in and having handed over my bag was told I needed to go to immigration desk and hand over my departure card…..err what departure card. All those arriving by airplane have a card to be handed in when they leave or they get stung with 30 dollar bill per person, however I explained to the unhelpful girl at the immigration desk I arrived by boat so I had no card. No was the reply …you have a paper document which I have to see before you can leave! Gawd! I had no idea what the piece of paper was but what I did know was that it would be on the boat, not with me at the airport. I phoned John in a bit of a panic …..time was ticking on and my bags were checked through but would not let me through to join them til I produced this document. In my best broken Spanish I explained that I was happy to pay the fine just to join my bags on the plane …but no I had stumbled on the one of the few officials in Mexico who would not accept a pecuniary gift to by pass bureaucratic red tape! No she said if I paid the fine then I would have paid the fee twice( having unbeknown to me paid the fee when we arrived) and that would never do! If I could e mail the said piece of paper to her then she would allow me to leave Mexico. After three abortive attempts to give me the correct e mail address John managed to mail her with five minutes left before the gate closed! A close shave! 

I arrived back to find my house looking like it was in a war zone. My leaded windows and blinds decorated the tree in the front garden, several of the houses opposite had been completely destroyed….just a depressing site. Where to start??? 

I met with the loss adjuster, who reckoned it would take 6-12 months for the house to get back to its former glory. The Council were really helpful getting the doors and windows boarded and providing security 24/7 to ensure no looting was possible, a godsend considering how unhelpful the insurance company had been at the outset. We were only allowed in at certain times accompanied by Council employees and once the houses had been made safe. There were endless meetings with the Council and it seemed to me that possibly the quickest way forward was to work with the ‘expertise’ of the Port Sunlight Village Trust they would know what specifications were necessary, they knew contractors that were capable of completing the work needed and would be an invaluable resource in ensuring the work was completed quickly as possible. If we all used the same contractor for the roof for instance then it would keep costs down and the prospect of numerous contractors trying to find places to park with multiple deliveries would be reduced. However as time passed it became apparent that the Trust were not that enthusiastic about working with private homeowners. A meeting was set up by the Council to bring together the Trust who own five of the properties in our block, the five private homeowners and all the loss adjusters to move things along in as quicker pace as possible. It was agreed that the Trust would work with Conservation Officer to put together a Masterplan for the block that would set out specifications, plans and materials to be used. One thing became clear ….that neither the Trust or the Conservation Officer had any record of specifications used previously…the houses were built in 1897 and it appeared that  we were largely starting from scratch. A great start to proceedings!
I know and appreciate that the Trust had a big job on but as the months ticked away, my frustration, depression and anger grew at the whole process. Eventually after about two months a project manager was appointed for the exterior works and again everyone agreed that if we had the same project manager it would help to speed the process up, so that's what we did. My insurers used a different company for the interior works, again no problem it was the same one as several of my private owner neighbours, I was happy. The interior guys met started to rip out walls, ceilings, the bathroom etc to see the extent of the damage and put together a plan of action to restore the interior. The walls had been lathe and plaster, all of that was taken away, well most of it had fallen away from the brick anyway. I felt optimistic, that was til the Port Sunlight Conservation Officer came to have a look…. The look of horror on her face ….a what have you done expression?! Well I had ‘done’ no more than the other home owners the place was stripped ready for reinstatement. None of the lathe and plaster should have been touched she wailed … this property is grade2 listed ( don't I know it!) and forget any thoughts of insulating plasterboard to help with energy conservation were a no no , it must be reinstated ‘like for like’ and lathe and plaster must be put back. This came as news to both the project manager for the interior works and us home owners who along with the Council,Conservation Officers et al understandably called a meeting to get sorted exactly what was needed! 
So meeting sorted, we were told that interior plans needed to submitted for planning consent an eight week process at the least, the Masterplan for the exterior works were complete for submission at the end of August, a mere six months from the date of the explosion. We all took some comfort from the fact that it looked like we would all have roofs by Christmas! 
The internal project manager set about re visiting the works that were needed following the lead of the Conservation Officer of the Port Sunlight Trust, following the’ like for like ‘ tenet that needed to be adhered to the letter if we were to get the internal works through planning. Lathe and plaster was to be used on the ceilings and the plaster specification was confirmed. This meant an increase in costs, lathe and plaster costing approx £100 per sq metre and the use of breathable paint, the skirting boards to be used specified and much more. Another hoop we had to jump through was that the we had to have the existing plaster tested for anthrax and asbestos! Now it is comforting to know that the house is anthrax and asbestos free but the house has been standing since 1897 and no one has died from anthrax yet!  Indeed the young man who came to do the testing told me that no plaster tested in the UK has tested positive for anthrax ….£350 for piece of mind I guess, but the three week wait for the results another unwelcome hold up. 
The Masterplan finally complete and submitted, the external project manager puts the roofing works out to tender …….progress at last! Three firms are put forward and with a timeline clearly identified for submission, that was then held up by the Trust requesting a fourth firm be allowed to  submit for tender putting back the timeline another week. Frustration was starting to grow! 
Finally ….hurrah !! A contractor was appointed and a pre start meeting held. The timeline was tight but the contractor was prepared to work through the weekend and fingers crossed we would have a roof by Christmas. The existing scaffolding was replaced with scaffolding designed to enable the roofers to crack on safely …we were hot to trot! On the first day of the works the weather was appalling, strong winds and very heavy rain, but the roofers worked through it removing the tiles on a number of houses. On day two, all the homeowners received an e mail from the project manager, there was a problem with the roofing felt specified which it appeared could result in a problem with condensation. It meant that it would rise the roof a little making it difficult to tie in with my neighbour and it would certainly not look that great! So having waited six months for the Masterplan to be drawn up it had completely ‘b***s up’ the specification for the roof. WTF! The roofers had to stop work whilst the contractor waited for clarification on the specification……then the fun started. 
I have to admit I was incandescent with frustration…….six months, six months we had waited for the so called people in the know to put together the specifications for the works, this was supposed to oil the wheels, not seize them up completely! Surely if there was doubt when the Masterplan was in the process of being drafted THEN was the appropriate time to do the research and ask the technical team to come out, measure the roof voids and ensure that everyone involved in drawing up the plan was absolutely confident that what was being proposed would be the right product for the job. It is quite definitely not the right time to engage in this process when the roofs have been stripped and the contractor is questioning the suitability of the product. Indeed we now find that our insurance companies could well be asked to pay for time when the contractors have been unable to crack on with replacing the roofs and further investigations into roof voids, technical call outs etc are made. It beggars belief!   TheTrust had been insistent on like for like and now suddenly it appeared they were asking us not to use the existing roof felt but this stuff called TLX Gold…. it seemed they just changed the rules to suit themselves. I wanted answers and fast, I really wanted a roof before Christmas. The Conservation Officer at the Council did not reply to my initial letter asking just what the hell was going on, a week passed, no work on the roofs, the roofers were sent onto another job while waiting for someone to either admit they had screwed up and rectify the situation or allow us to re roof like for like. I had had enough I wrote yet another letter to the Conservation Officer and this time I copied it into the Assistant Director at the Council and the local Councillor informing them of the situation as I saw it. I wanted them to know it was not the homeowners or the contractors holding up the reinstatement of the houses and my frustration at being ignored by the Conservation Officer. 
Finally one of my concerns was that no one was able to inform us with any degree of absolute certainty that the use of the specified product would not produce condensation, to say that it may work is unacceptable. Should it be used and result in damage to my property, who would accept responsibility? Those who put together the Masterplan? The Council? The Contractor? For want of a better analogy, could I find that all those involved in the process shifting responsibility? Possible shades of Grenfell Tower here?
To say I was deeply disappointed by this whole process which was fast turning into something of a debacle as I saw it, is an understatement! 
As I had hoped my reference to the Grenfell Tower disaster did the trick! A response within five minutes! 
The reply from the Conservation Officer was that they were trying to provide betterment of the roofing materials involved and they were trying to get in touch with the contractor to get him to sort it out. Passing the buck again! I wrote a quick reply …..The contractor works to that specification he is given , he does not write the specification....does he? Guess what no reply! 
Finally ten days after work had stopped the Conservation Officers, the Heritage architect and the Project Manager for the external works got together for a meeting, which must have been interesting! The outcome being the Heritage Architect would put together revised specifications asap for work to start work. Hurrah! Sad to say this debacle didn't stop there, as I suspected the revised specification involved more work on the roofs in order for this wonder roofing felt to do its job ironically it involved taking down ceilings, no problem for me my ceilings were already down, not quite sure how the Trust houses will get over that problem if they want existing plaster to remain. Not my problem and to be honest if I never have to work with the Trust again it will be too soon though I know at some point I will have to,  this whole experience leaves a bad taste. The revised spec also had a revised price, an extra three and a half thousand pounds….would the insurance company stump up the money, I crossed my fingers and waited along with all the other homeowners. One thing was certain if they wouldn't ….I wouldn't either. My insurance company agreed ….phew! By now anyone involved in the project bar the Trust  was aghast with the amount of time it had taken to get to where we were at… finally started on the roof again the week before Christmas. I hope that now all the necessary bureaucracy has has been sorted I can now crack on free from the shackles of the Trust, whose properties appear not to have been touched with regard to reinstatement. The property owners have instructed for the envelope outside works tired of waiting for the Trust we all agreed to get on with the works without them! 
I have to say that the major disparity between us private homeowners and the Trust seems that the Trust is only interested in one thing, the houses, the bricks and mortar. They have appeared in my experience with them, to pay scant regard to the impact that this explosion has had on the people in the houses. Everyone homeowner and tenant alike has been adversely effected and has a story to tell, the Trust however appear to want to squeeze as much from the effects of that awful night in March as possible. Sad and not the way Lord Lever, the philanthropist that built the village, would have worked I suspect. 

So as you can see John and I will be glad to see the back of 2017, in my darker moments I have cried tears of frustration, thinking will I ever get back to the boat? John and I have watched as two Category 5 hurricanes hit the Caribbean to the East of the boat and an 8.1 earthquake devastated parts of Pacific Mexico. Throughout the hurricane season I would track the National Hurricane Centre everyday with my fingers crossed hoping Orion was out of harms way. We were lucky and to be honest and without wanting to sound too dramatic, if we had lost the boat as well I don't know what I would of done or how I would have come to terms with the loss coming on top of the effects of the explosion. 
With regard to the explosion no one has been bought to justice for it. Two men are currently on bail for insurance fraud and endangering life. How no one was killed I do not know, though there are still those recovering both physically and mentally. The police have collected over 300 impact statements but still no news of wether those involved will ever be bought to justice. Hopefully the new year will bring positive news on that score. 
This Christmas John and I are housesitting in Cumbria, looking after a house and an ageing Jack Russell, a time to chill and take stock. We are so fortunate to have wonderful friends in Port Sunlight who have allowed us to stay in their home and for that we will be forever grateful and in their debt. True friends and lovely people. However Christmas is for families and I am sure they are enjoying a wonderful Christmas in their home without us intruding on that special time. 

Enough of this wittering on ….. 2018 is going to be our year. House sorted and back on the boat, can't wait ! 

1 comment:

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