Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 in review

Today’s the last day of the year! 2013 is over and it’s been quite a year. There were quite a few milestones along the way. Apart from various smaller incidents that will not have a permanent effect, like having a lodger living with us for months, there’s been some ground breaking news.

My brother got married last June! It was a wonderful ceremony in the Greek island of Syros! The whole journey was wonderful. The island is amazing and seeing my family was great. The ceremony took place in an amazing chapel on the hill overlooking the bay and the reception in a restaurant and bar by the sea. I don’t think the event could have gone any better.

I can’t easily forget the amazing summer holidays I had with JJ! It was the first time I had all these consecutive days off visiting one single area. We went island hoping and forgot all about London and work in the most amazing environment! Paros and Mykonos are really beautiful and worth seeing, the food, the sea, the sun. I know it might get tiresome. We will need to visit other parts of the world, but Greece can be convenient and economic…

Buying a house happened soon after our return to the UK. The whole process was stressful to say the least! However, I can’t be happier. Our new place is a haven that I hope we’ll treasure for a long time. It’s still a work in progress, but even for now it looks and feels astonishing. And it’s all ours! We must have visited at least a dozen of houses. We knew more or less what we wanted and we managed to find it…

What I can’t exclude from this list is my progress in running. I managed to run every single month of 2013. I ran in events in Regent’s Park, Hyde Park and Wimbledon Common. I’ve even raised some money for the British Heart Foundation. I had ran 206.06 miles in 2011 and only 68.96 miles in 2012. But last year I ran 326.21 miles! I’m really happy for this. I feel that I’ve been doing something really good for myself!

We don’t really have any major plans for tonight. JJ is working tomorrow morning and he can’t have alcohol. I’m not that bothered about that anyway. I plan on cooking pastitsio for dinner and we’ll watch the fireworks on the television. The weather will not be that great and we've done the going to the city centre for NYE last year. It’s going to be cosy, nice and warm indoors. 

Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 in gay rights

During my last run, I was thinking of the year that will soon be over. I thought about where I was last year and where I am now. I thought of how grateful I should be about everything that’s been happening in my life. Especially compared to other parts of the world, which got me thinking: Was 2013 a good year for gay people around the globe?

As far as I can tell, the world has been making some steps forwards when it came to LGBT rights. If I remember correctly more USA states made civil unions legal. France agreed to legalise same sex marriages and adoptions. Same sex marriages became legal in England and Wales as well. If I’m not mistaken the first marriage will take place at the end of March next year. More and more countries agree to legalise same sex civil unions and support legislation opposing discrimination against LGBT people.

There were some headlines made by celebrities coming out to the public. The most recent example I can remember is of course the English diver Tom Daley. In the same category of people we have people like Wentworth Miller, Jodie Foster, Anderson Cooper and Jason Collins. It will be even better when people are coming out and no one will really care. But till then, positive and successful gay role models being introduced to the public is always a good thing. Gay closeted teenagers should know that there are people out there, good at what they do, with perfectly normal lives.

 Can you see more blues or yellows?

Unfortunately however, steps have been made in the opposite direction. Nigeria passed a law against same sex marriage. The Supreme Court in Australia ruled against same sex marriages as well, cancelling all weddings that had already taken place. What’s more infuriating is the fact that in India homosexuality is banned as illegal, in Uganda the anti-homosexuality billed passed and in Russia there’s a new law on “gay propaganda”. There was minor protest against Russia and the fact that they’re hosting this year’s Winter Olympics. People like Steven Fry were trying to make their countries boycott the event. There are some articles here and there, but to be honest I don’t think anything positive will come to that.

Overall, to answer my question, I'd say that 2013 was not a good year for LGBT people. In general, the so called Western civilisation is moving forward, when at the same time lots of gay people in some areas of the world are left to suffer. I fear though that the steps made backwards are greater than the steps made forwards. I've seen documentaries on how gay people live in Uganda or India. It's estimated that in India alone there are around 2.5 million gay people. The constant threat and fear is something which I can only imagine, but thankfully not see. I’m grateful of all these people that came before me, making the society I live in, not perfect, but accepting of me. I hope that 2014 might be a better year with only positive news on the matter. 

Friday, 27 December 2013

Post Christmas Update

I hope you’re having an amazing time during this holiday season. I know my Christmas break was a blast! I must have put on around a stone during the last few days. I don’t have any more days to take from work, so I’m generally working these days. I was in the office Monday and half a day Tuesday, but I had so much fun on Christmas and Boxing Day!

I really loved my robots on the tree decorations this year...

We had invited some people over for Christmas. We decided that we needed to enjoy our new house, so we wanted to host this year’s celebrations. Due to the fact that there is no public transport on that day, we had a few cancellations, but overall we had some friends over that had to spend the night with us. Which was just fine, it was so much fun at the end…

Our Christmas table. That is the decent 'before' picture..

Overall we cooked pork, a leg of lamb and stuffed chicken, a couple of varieties of potatoes and carrots, a cheese bake with vegetables including Brussel sprouts, pasta salad, bean salad, green salad, tzatziki and an aubergine and feta cheese dip. All that excluding deserts (yes plural) and a cheese platter with salami. Are you asking how many people we were overall? 5! But we could have easily fed 15.

Yes, we went overboard with the food and we’re still having the leftovers. We froze some meat for later and we’re still going strong. My lunch box for today is packed with Xmas food. Luckily it all turned out to be fine and we didn't poison anyone. We had decided against turkey since none of us is a great fan.

Me as Rudolf looking down...No, No! I wasn't drinking...

Our Christmas party had also a theme. We had agreed on dressing festive but casual. So, JJ found a merry jumper and I had found a Rudolf onesie! I had a hood with a red nose, horns, a white belly and a tail! A friend of mine came dressed as a penguin and another created her own jumper. The great thing about onesies apart from the fact that they’re fun, they’re so comfortable! I had never worn one before. You can eat and eat and eat some more without worrying about belts and tight pants! PS. Of course I went out for a walk in the neighbourhood in my onesie and my tail was visible underneath my jacket. It raised a few eyebrows…

The food is coming out of the oven...

After the huge supper, the only thing we could do was just lie down and wait to digest. We watched ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Love Actually’. We played a couple of games and ate and drank some more. It was overall a really nice day. How was yours? 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

I wish to all you people out there, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays according to your beliefs. No matter what you've got planned for today or these days in general, I hope you will all have a perfect time.
See you soon! Lots of love! 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Throwback Thursday

I decided to take part in that web trend of 'Throwback Thursday'. I've been seeing other people's photos and I was jealous. I wanted to take part. Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures of myself in digital format. My brother went through recently the process of scanning some. Him being the first child, he has whole albums just for him. When I came along, my family wasn't that much interested any more! :-) Fortunately, I'm sitting right next to him in some of them. Next year, when I fly back to my hometown, I might take a scanner with me to work on some of my pictures.  

So, I give you this picture of me (on the left of course) and my brother:

We're sitting in our living room in Kavala, in the house where I grew up next to the town's big municipality office. The year is probably around '84. Over our heads is our old 'SABA' television with 8 whole channel buttons! In front of me is one of my all time favorite toys! I can't remember if it had a proper name or not, but we called it 'the bricks'. I used to spend hours after hours building, destroying and rebuilding all kind of structures. I was a small engineer even from that young age. :-D

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Text messages from your dog

I don't even have a dog (yet) but I found these hilarious. I found them somewhere on tumblr Monday morning and I couldn't resist reposting them. They made me smile that morning...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Change of habits and beliefs?

So, I went to Greece to see my parents last weekend. It was a very nice and relaxing short brake. I hadn't told my friends I'd be there, since my visit was so short and I really wanted to spend time with my parents. There was the customary abundance of food. My mother had asked me about the daily menu weeks before. And the interrogation by my father about my career was also there. We always go into that routine where he asks me about work and gives me more or less the same advice over and over again. All that lies somewhere between being annoying and sweet at the same time.

Things were different though. Since now I own a place with JJ, his name came up a few more times than normal, even by my father. Since he's more practical, he wanted to know my financial situation in general and I was asked about the expenses of its maintenance, the mortgage payments and scheduled work to the house and how they will be funded. It was nice that he showed this kind of interest. I don't talk to my father about personal stuff, but we can find some common ground and talk about practicalities and money.

My mother's the opposite. She is the one to ask me about more personal stuff. Her ways are different. She would look deep into my eyes and without blinking, she'd ask if I'm OK. It’s difficult not to laugh when she does that. I had a conversation with her about life in general one morning in the car. We agreed that each person makes his or her own choices and since I’m not harming anyone, it’s not anyone’s business about what I do with my life.

She mentioned something to me that troubled me a lot though. She was told by a common “friend” that I shouldn’t put photos on Facebook! That asshole “friend” implied that 'JJ' was featured and mentioned in my Facebook page a lot and I shouldn't be doing that! I urged my mother to tell me who that twat guy was, but she didn't. The only thing I know is that he’s around 40 years old, which makes him young enough to know better!

I realised that my parents are victims of homophobic remarks on my behalf. This is something I suspected in the past, but it was never confirmed. I should be more understanding and nice to them. I live in UK which is in general a far more accepting society! Next year after the 29th of March, marriages will be legal here. Smaller communities in Greece are not like that. Homophobia and racism is still a reality there. I live too far away from there and sometimes I forget how it is.

Overall though, it was a very nice long weekend. I spent time with my parents and talked about lots of things that brought us closer. Maybe I’m getting more mature. Maybe the fact that my parents will be grandparents (from my brother) soon, made them gain a new perspective in things. We'll see how it goes, but for the moment it’s all good.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Random Thoughts Thursday

  • I’m flying tomorrow for a long weekend to Greece. I’ll be visiting my parents for a few days. Since I will not be going there over the Christmas holidays, I thought it would be a good idea to go now. I had booked this holiday I think before we even started negotiating for our house. Unfortunately that would have been the first weekend I could have spent in my new place. It would be great to wake up there and do things around the house. And gosh, there are still lots of things to be done. But, I’m thinking that I will be spending there so many weekends in the years to come, I can just pass this one.

  •  Speaking of my parents, I need to say that they've been generally supportive of me buying a place with JJ. They can understand the waste of money in paying rent and how a property can be a great investment for the future. My father haven’t said much, but my mother even suggested coming to help us out a bit. They generally don’t do things separately and I know that she would hate to leave him alone even for a few days, but I really appreciate the offer. My father was impressed on the way we handled things and negotiated the house down as we did. But he still finds it hard to even mention JJ or acknowledge his existence. If my mother comes and meets JJ, that would be great progress.

  • I’m starting to feel the holiday season at last. We finished yesterday writing Christmas cards that I’ll try to send out today. We haven’t decorated our house yet, but we’re thinking of getting a big proper Christmas tree. Since I came to the UK I’ve never had one. It will be fun. Traditionally in Greece, Christmas decorations go up on St. Nicholas’ day (6th of December) till the Epiphany (6th January). We’re thinking of visiting next week the ‘Winter Wonderland’ in Hyde Park as well. We’ve also invited some friends over on Christmas day. By then, I’m hoping to get rid of the boxes and tidy up the place.

  • Did you do any shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? I like how these American terms are creeping in UK every day life. They don’t really fit since there's no Thanksgiving Day, but I can’t really complain on having offers on various things. Since my budget at the moment is really tight I went only a couple old school PC games and a DLC. I got 'Age of Empires HD edition', 'Fallout 2' and 'Dragonborn' for Skyrim. I hadn’t had the chance to play them yet, but I will. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

DIY, moving and anniversary day

The last couple of weeks have passed in a bit of a blur. We got the keys to our property on the 12th of November and we wanted to make it ready before we moved in. That meant we had 2 weeks to really work hard on it before the weekend of the 30th, which was move-in day!

The tenants of the place weren't the cleanest people I met. On top of that, they had a baby, a bird, a cat and a dog! All these animals (apart from the baby) did wonders to the light coloured carpets of the first floor. We’re talking about serious filth. The moment you entered the hallway, the stink would hit you like a slap to your face. There was so much dog hair everywhere! And we couldn't have that. So, we begun the process of removing the carpets to restore the original wooden floors and also paint the bedrooms.

The before picture with carpet and yellow wallpaper and skirting boards

The second before picture. So much dirt... 

Removing the carpets 

 That's me happily (?!) sanding the floors

The first weekend we spent it removing the old carpets and their joints. We needed to cut them up in manageable rolls and remove the carpets’ under layer. Also, we needed to remove all nails and staples that held everything in place. Because the weekend after that we rented sanding machines to sand the floors and they needed to be clean from everything that might damage the sanding paper. We had never used machines like that. There was a learning curve to it, but I believe we did well. There are so many good DIY websites and YouTube videos to check. Finally, we applied the varnish.

Finish sanding the floors and removing the wallpapers

First layer of varnish and undercoat on the walls

While doing all that, we spent as much time as we had around work hours to paint the rooms and pack our stuff. We removed wallpapers, sanded walls, applied undercoats and paint. And then, finally, the last weekend arrived. I had Friday off and Jeff had rented a van. His company provides him days off to move anyway. So, we did lots of trips back and forth. We had some friends helping us in various stuff, like assemble IKEA furniture or bring food and it went more or less fine. We didn’t break anything!!! I count that as a success.

The second bedroom after we finished it.

So, yesterday, I travelled for the first time from our new place to work. It felt great! We still haven’t completely finished the third bedroom and there are boxes all over the place, but we have all the time in the world to sort things out!

In addition, yesterday was the day of our first mortgage payment AND my anniversary with JJ! I met him exactly 4 years ago in a bookstore that is now a METRO bank (boo) in Fulham Broadway! My life has changed for the better in so many ways since then! I love him to bits. This journey, which I think has just begun, is something amazing that I will treasure!
I’m just so happy!!!!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Home Owner / Land Owner

We did it!!! I’m not sure exactly how, but we did it. And it happened all so fast! When I wrote my last post I had the property pretty much written off. We were still negotiating the price, but there was a gap between what the bank said they’d offer and what the vendor said he wanted. So, we pulled off completely. That’s when I wrote the last post. We weren’t in the position to offer him in cash the asking difference. 

However, he must have been in need for cash quickly because he agreed! He agreed on the money offered to us by the bank, which matches the surveyor’s evaluation. We received that phone call on Sunday the 20th of October, the day that JJ was flying back to Cape Town to visit his family. We were over the moon. We opened a bottle of champagne and everything. Following Monday we gave the order to our solicitor and mortgage advisor to go ahead.

We can now call this our own (in 25 years).

That’s when the thriller started. On Wednesday of the same week the vendor changed his mind! He said that we’re taking things too slowly (rubbish excuse) and put the property back in the market! There is absolutely no way that a bank can approve a mortgage and the contracts to be created in two to three days! That’s completely unrealistic. He probably thought he could get more money from the property and got more than one real estate agents and put the property back on the market. He even tried to find tenants to rent it! Both I and JJ from South Africa were on the phone with our solicitor and bank trying to sort things out. I can’t point out enough how stressful these weeks have been. We could see the place online on offer. We were also pretty much harassed by our estate agents to hurry up, since they didn’t want to lose the sale to the competition. 

Anyway, on Friday the 1st of November we got the report. On Monday the 4th we exchanged contracts and Tuesday the 12th we completed. For those of you familiar with the property market, you would understand how fast that is! At some point I thought that there could be a bad reason and the vendor is pushing things so quickly. However, we got the property on the exact price that was evaluated which I think doesn’t happen often.  We got it around 11.3% less than the preliminary agreed price, which was already £15k less than the first asking price. We can’t really complain.

And the place is perfect. It was built in the 30’s. It has some really nice features like cute little wooden doors and fireplaces in every room. It has 2 to 3 bedrooms, the third one is very small and could be a study or boudoir. It needs some TLC because it was rented and the tenants didn’t really took care of it, but that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to put our own stamp on it and make it our own. So, we’re planning on moving in the following weekend. We’ll try to fix things in the house before then and try to prepare it for our arrival! Exciting stuff!!!

So, that’s what’s been happening. I’m very sorry I lost contact recently with you guys. I haven’t read or commented on almost anything. I hope I haven’t missed something ground breaking. If I have, please excuse me. I’m not sure how I’ll manage to catch up and how often I’ll keep on posting, but I plan on returning when the dust settles down. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

500th Post

This is my 500th post that I upload to my blog! Yay me! I somehow made it this far! I started this blog back in August 2009. My life was so different then! I can’t even start to count all the major changes that happened in my life since then, but I can easily sum it up and same that I’m in such a happier place now.

To be honest, I was postponing this post. I wanted it to occur with the final agreement on our house purchase. I wanted to happily announce that everything went smoothly and even slightly complain a bit about having to start packing now. I had it all in my head already. I can be a bit of an attention seeker that way and whine when I get the chance. I’m writing a blog if you haven’t noticed.

However, things didn't work out exactly like that. The bank that was supposed to provide us with a mortgage estimated the value of property less than the asking price. We knew that the asking price was a bit high but we had decided to accept it, even if it might harm the investment value of the property. In a couple of years and with the improvements of the property we had in mind, we would definitely catch up. The bank didn't see it that way though. They refused to give us more money than their estimate. So, since we can’t cover the difference we’re most likely losing the place. At the moment the estate agents, who appear to be extremely surprised at the low bank estimation, are trying to negotiate with the seller and the bank. But to be honest, I can’t see the vendor agreeing to that price, since the estate agents made him believe that he could make so much money from the property.

I’m feeling a bit disappointed to be honest. It’s not going to be the end though. We’ll start viewing more properties soon and I believe we’ll find what we’re looking for. We learnt a lot during the last couple of months with all this. The property market can be vicious, but so can we.  

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Interior decoration porn

One of the best things about buying your own house is the fact that you can do (almost) anything you want with it. You're not restrained from the temporariness of living in someone else's property. Spending a little bit of extra money on it is not a 'waste', but an 'investment'. So, from buying new curtains to replacing the flooring, tearing down walls or replacing the fireplaces is something to consider.

Putting your own 'stamp' on the house is something expected, especially from a gay couple with some sense of taste. Cough cough. OK, I lack this specific gay gene. For everyone that knows me, I admit it: JJ has far better ideas than I do in these things. I'm more of the practical type of person, when he has the 'eye' for things. I'm the engineer while he's the artist (very generally stated). But still, I appreciate sometimes nice things when I see them. And since we talked about it, we agreed on following the same general decoration ideas. While waiting to see what's going to happen with the house we have in mind, we've been visiting furniture stores, window shopping and we've been buying decoration magazines.

Here's a list of ideas I've gathered online. In each picture there is something I like.