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Saturday, 29 September 2012

The best things in life are free.

Buddleia, also known as the Butterfly Bush, being true to its name.

This plant flowers almost perpetually throughout the year and is one of my favourites. I bring the flowers indoors and the perfume lingers on and on. Bees love it too! I took this shot this morning.

Photo Copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A pretty red thing.

Photo copyright SvD.

RECIPE: Ground Nut Stew. Copyright SvD.

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Peanuts are very popular in West African cuisine and this chicken stew comes from Ghana. Peanuts can be added to meat casseroles or steamed vegetables and they are highly nutritious as well. Ground peanuts are used to thicken this dish- peanut butter, which is easy to find, is used in the recipe. Alternatively, you can make your own peanut butter by roasting raw peanuts in their skins in the oven, rubbing the cooled, cooked nuts until the skins come off, and then placing the (skinless) peanuts in the blender and blending until a paste is formed. Very easy! Ground nut stew is one of those dishes that is simple yet so tasty. Everyone will wonder why they never thought of it themselves!

One whole chicken, cut into portions

One large onion

Two cloves garlic

One knob ginger root (or one teaspoon ginger powder)

Two tablespoons tomato purée

Four tablespoons smooth peanut butter

One teaspoon chilli flakes

Handful whole roasted peanuts

Vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Flour for dusting

Method:

Heat around two tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat. Meanwhile, dust the chicken is plain flour. Shake off excess flour and place the chicken pieces in the hot oil in a single layer- you may need to repeat this process a few times in order to brown all the chicken. Brown the chicken pieces- around four minutes per side.

While you are browning the chicken, peel and chop the onion finely. Fry the onion in the same pan as the chicken, until brown around the edges – 5 minutes.

Peel and chop the garlic cloves and ginger root (if using).

When the onion is cooked sufficiently, add the garlic and ginger - toss for twenty seconds. Add the chicken, tomato purée, chilli flakes salt and pepper. Add the peanut paste, stir to combine and two to three cups of water. Stir the sauce well to incorporate the peanut butter. Bring the mixture to the boil then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for around 45 minutes until the chicken falls away from the bone. The sauce should be thick and creamy. If the sauce is not sufficiently thick, uncover the pan and increase the heat to medium until enough liquid evaporates. Do not wander away as the sauce could easily burn. Stay close by and keep an eye on the pot!

Serve the groundnut stew with plain boiled rice and salad of your choice. Garnish the stew with the crushed peanuts. (To crush peanuts, place in a plastic bag and thwack the bag with a rolling pin until the nuts break up.)

Tip: why not try a vegetarian version of this dish as well? Instead of using chicken, why not just make the sauce and serve with steamed or roasted vegetables? Omit the chicken from the recipe, then purée the peanut-based sauce and pour over the cooked vegetables. Or you can use the same recipe with tofu instead of meat. Reduce the cooking time to 20-25 minutes only but follow exactly the same steps.

FILM ARTICLE: Top Ten Romances in Film. Copyright SvD.

This article first appeared on shadowlocked.com- a really excellent movie website. You can read the article below or click here to view it on shadowlocked.com (looks better with pictures of the films): TOP TEN ROMANCE MOVIES

Let’s talk about love …..

What constitutes a great romance? Is it boy gets girl or is it more about the journey and discovering that they’re actually falling for each other?  I guess anyone’s definition of love is simply that you choose him or her because of all the other people in your life, you’d rather be with that person and no one else. But to get to the point of wanting to be with that person is the journey that makes a film (and the quality of that journey is what gives us a FINE ROMANCE).

In early cinematic history, romance consisted of the passive, delicate female, all batting eyelids and sighing, waiting for her man to come to her. The female adjunct metamorphosed through the decades into a more in-control version and the supportive wallflower soon became empowered. As cinema and audiences developed a changing code of morals and ethics, so too did the newly confident heroine shed her inhibitions and become happy to strip off and take off literally, in the sexual realm. This modern take on portraying sex on screen probably killed off romance, which until then had been about subtlety and innuendo.

Romance used to be portrayed as that look, that smile, that square inch of bare neck barely visible under her polo neck sweater and that breast heaving under a taut silk blouse in ANTICIPATION of him.

Better yet, the great romantic films were elevated to legendary status by a sparkling script. Sadly these days, and like the fast food society we live in, we seem to now care less for the words and more for the gratuitous in your face action – as if recourse to a bit of IMAGINATION might actually kill. Similarly, characters nowadays seem to say very little to each other (or very little worth listening to) relegating the beauty of the English language to oblivion.

A script that shines, with effervescence and poignancy in equal measure, captures the human condition and the process of falling in love. There have to be BIG themes too – loss, sacrifice - running in tandem with rounded characters we can understand and empathise with.

Finally, without a great dose of chemistry between the leads, even a memorable script will just sound like someone reading a shopping list.

So here goes my choice of the TEN BEST ROMANCES – the real thing, the big cheeses in the love department.  The films that were memorable enough to replay like a melody over and over again whenever our thoughts turned to LOVE:


10.            BODY HEAT (1981,Lawrence Kasdan) (William Hurt, Kathleen Turner)
While some called this a tawdry remake of Double indemnity, this sultry, overheated film explores the scheming manipulator who uses sex to control her not-so-bright lover and ends up framing him for murder. Passion, sex and more passion and sex. Made in 1981 when audiences were just getting used to more risqué manoeuvres on screen, Kathleen Turner and William Hurt get top marks for CHEMISTRY. The film left us with the unforgettable scene where he breaks into her house as she watches because he is so hot he can’t help himself. The line between love and lust completely erased here but at least we get to feel something. And it’s all good.

9.            THE WAY WE WERE (1973, Sydney Pollack) (Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford)
OK, OK, the chemistry between Barbara and Robert was not great BUT these two gorgeous people did a terrific job of pretending to enjoy themselves. Cast as mismatched lovers whose relationship is doomed, audiences loved it because just as in real life, not everyone wins all the time. POIGNANCY in bucket loads about two people wanting different things but still capable of loving each other and at the end when they meet again. …WAAAAH! It could have been so different but it wasn’t. What they do have is memories…

8.            BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995, Clint Eastwood) (Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep)
Audiences took some convincing to see Clint play the sensitive type but boy, does he do a great job as actor and director in this colossal weepie. Playing a stranger in town, he soon has Meryl lapping it up and before you can say “Jack Rabbit”, she’s shed her inhibitions and forgot she’s in deepest Iowa where there’s an awful lot of corn and shattered dreams. Meryl and Clint have such amazing CHEMISTRY that gossip columnists were whispering of a real-life affair. We’ll never know but golly, we wept when she wept and almost passed out with grief when they went their separate ways. Better to have loved and lost than never….

7.            A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966, Claude Lelouch) (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Aimée)
Bland and atmospheric with lots of glances, interminable silences, incomprehensible flashbacks, singing (!!!), tragic, furtive, sad, emotional, lots of cigarettes and real kisses…definitely a French film except that luckily they DO NOT commit suicide or murder each other in the end. Some would say that the film is too plodding and slow but as a genre it hits all the right buttons and its sheer style is unique. We get regret, sadness, a beautiful actress whose face casts shadows and rainbows and a memorable theme song. But her inability to forget her dead husband and guilt at sleeping with another man is universal enough to have everyone reaching for the tissues. In the end we get to feel something, although we’re not sure what because they’re all speaking French. And since this is a grown up film, we are left guessing what will happen next. And that’s exactly what happens in real life- no one really knows.

6.            AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997, James L. Brooks) (Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt)
SPARKLING SCRIPT with irrepressible Jack in his naughty-but-nice element. Impossible to outperform, there is no actor who could get away with such devilish insouciance concealing a heart of soft, vulnerable sensitivity. Helen Hunt is magnificent as the feisty waitress who puts him in his place. Both are missing that certain someone in their lives, and both end up needing each other – this is the ultimate feel good love story with a silly sub plot. But don’t let that detract from marvelling at how good an actor Jack really is. A romance for adults (preferably middle aged and looking for love).

5.            NOW VOYAGER (1942, Irving Rapper) (Bette Davis, Paul Henreid)
Ugly duckling learns to relax, pluck her eyebrows and get over her horrid mother and in the process falls madly in love with married man (who naturally she can’t have). Good old-fashioned morals with superb acting from Bette Davis who despite her unconventional beauty manages to carry off her role with elegance and aplomb. Another fine example of a  PERFECT SCRIPT that is memorable and touches all the big themes: maternal love, self love, forbidden love and romantic love. They don’t write scripts about women who forsake a-once–in-a-lifetime-love for the sake of a child anymore, yet despite its outdated theme it feels real and raw. And we are all delighted that Bette finds happiness of sorts that has eluded her for so long.

4.            BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961, Blake Edwards) (Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard)
It is probably no exaggeration that without Audrey Hepburn there would have been no point to his film. Besides playing a stir crazy prostitute, she brings pathos by the truckload to her wounded character with enough innocence to charm a cynic. The result is an irresistible, beautiful nymph to soften even the hardest heart. Hepburn possessed just the right balance of cheeky gamine and haughty detachment to carry it off. In the end, the film is a story about healing and redemption through love– all while standing in the rain with a sodden cat. If anything, the film started the trend of declarations of love under water. A touching piece that warms the heart.

3.            CASABLANCA
Few would argue that Bogart and Bergman look good together and they are helped by probably the BEST SCRIPT ever written. There are so many lines from Casablanca that we even recite in our sleep and this more than sixty years later! The combination of war, danger, espionage, the Germans, marriage, infidelity, intrigue, a series of perfectly slotted sub plots which also serve to gel the whole story neatly together and a blast from the past who comes to wreck Rick’s hard earned sanity, makes for the most seamless example of a script. It is impossible to imagine how the film or script could be improved. As a love story it deals with the HUGE themes of love lost and sacrifice (the biggest one being about sacrifice and that immortal line about a ‘hill of beans’).

2.            DR. ZHIVAGO (1965, David Lean) (Omar Sharif, Julie Christie)
The Russian epic to out do all other epics, we get to ogle Omar Sharif and the absolute beauty of Julie Christie. David Lean gives us a fine example of the director creating expanse and atmosphere with snow and red paint and daffodils and falling leaves in the same season. No matter, we swallow the abridged version of Russian history with relish but the real story is about a man who believes in his country and is forced to choose between his saintly wife and his mistress who just happens to be married to a murderer. The CHEMISTRY between Sharif and Christie is electric – she, all stoic tight lips and he of the soulful eyes. The film is worth watching just to hear her say “Oh Yuri, Yuri, Yuri…” A classic that should be watched on rainy Sunday afternoons again and again….

1.            BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945, David Lean) (Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard)
Celia Johnson carries this film as the housewife who finds love in the railway tearoom (of all places – imagine this happening with today’s surly commuters). Trevor Howard falls madly in love with her over milk and two sugars.. The simplicity of the setting and these two restrained, stiff upper lip characters, who have to try very very hard not to rip each other’s clothes off, makes for a delightfully chaste, yet poignant love story. A great example of ANTICIPATION that motors through the film keeping us wanting more and for them to finally please, just do it! As the philosopher Nietzsche famously said, thinking it is worse than doing it! A lesson on how to make a film on a shoestring and with a script pared down to a minimum but nonetheless with something unforgettable to say... And we are left clutching the tissues because she can never have him. How sad is that!!!!

This article first appeared on shadowlocked.com- a really excellent movie website: TOP TEN ROMANCE MOVIES

Sunday, 23 September 2012

FILM ARTICLE: The Kiss. Copyright SvD.

(This article first appeared on shadowlocked.com, a really excellent movie website.)

In the Rodin Museum in Paris, there is a guided tour of Rodin’s most famous work The Kiss – and how he laboured for years to get the pose and symbiosis between the man and woman absolutely right. Rodin’s masterpiece remains one of the most recognisable and downright sexy pieces of art in the world today.

In cinema, the kiss is the culmination of longing, desire and a hot ante pasti to sex. Modern film depicts the leads grabbing each other and eating each other hungrily. But the kiss used to be much more than that; it once meant more than mere kissing.

The kiss used to be THE MOMENT –when we saw the two leads, finally at long last, give in to their absolute need to just hold each other for dear life and their lips met in a passionate but by today’s standards, chaste embrace. More often than not the dialogue was the most romantic and unforgettable that replayed over and over again in our heads.

Now Voyager: "Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars!"

Gone with the Wind: "You need to be kissed and often. And by someone who knows how!"

Casablanca – "Kiss me as if it were the last time"

Wow, hotdog – can you imagine if you were to kiss someone as if it were the last time? One has to wonder if modern audiences could even fathom the sheer breadth of that request.

The technique of old where language and WHAT the leads were saying to each other has been lost, I would argue, completely. Today’s main characters are portrayed as brazen, cynical and blasé about most things, and instead of vulnerability we get moral insensibility, so how can something like a kiss mean very much?

I watched The Notebook over and over again and I wondered where the intelligent stuff had gone. I found it laughable when he said that he wrote ‘365 letters’. He wrote her ‘every day for a year.’ Thanks for enlightening us on the length of a year.

What if he had said instead: “I can’t believe you just disappeared. Left. Forgot about me. Us. There was never a day that I didn’t think of you. And what we lost.’

Somehow modern day romance is puerile and frankly, forgettable.  The stuff we really remember in film (and that’s why we got the movies to be moved, inspired, entertained but mostly removed from our hum drum lives) is the moment when he just gives in: he looks at her, she looks at him and there is a sudden realisation that mere words cannot express what is running thorough their minds. And the KISS is everything. Because that’s when the barrier, the sandpit, the dyke, whatever you want to call it, is broached, and wham, real intimacy begins. The kiss, in a sense, is an act of honesty.

Hollywood often mistakes this silent complicity between a man and woman who are ultimately hot for each other, and instead of language, gives us the lunge. There is no other way to describe modern day kissing. Like fast food, it seems to be something that people need to do fast as if in a great hurry. Are they in such a rush to be somewhere else?

The truth is we wait the whole darn film for some sign that they’re going to get together. And when they do is it either the anticlimax of our expectations or something extraordinary. Clint and Meryl in Bridges of Madison County – now that was some ‘meeting of the minds’! All the copulation was done off screen and what we got was one of the best lingering, long romantic moments with the kiss that spoke many, many words. Mind you there was a lot of background dialogue in the song playing which was highly evocative but Client and Meryl clearly had all the time in the world to explore and savour that first kiss.

Contrast that moment with say, Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity and the whole; ‘wow factor’ of emotion just begins to seem tawdry.

And that is essentially the problem with romance in film these days. Men and women on screen seem to say little and emote in action not in words. Why can’t the kiss be the best moment of the film like it used to be? Now it s the inevitable par for the course moment but we don’t feel anything. No one seems to get lost in each other anymore.

And instead of kissing we get that ridiculous simulated sex. Now honestly – sex is pretty dramatic stuff and best-done behind closed doors. To watch two people simulating sex is a bit like drinking a skinny latte in the North Pole. It's a barely there moment without much sustenance. One has to ask – what’s the point?

Consider the sexiest moment on screen – Rhett Butler grabs Scarlet in his arms and carries her up the sprawling staircase. Cut to the next morning as she lays contentedly in his arms. Did we  need to see anything?
Real romance, sex, and lust, in fact the whole nine yards, is in the kiss. It is the longed-for silent moment where speaking just doesn’t seem to mean as much as the meeting of two lips and the locking of two souls – it is a prelude. The real thing because face it, we don’t lock lips with strangers on the train or the bus. But it’s the one thing that we dream of doing with the person we fancy the pants off.

And please, can we have real kissing!!!! THE TYPE WHERE HIS LIPS AND HER LIPS ARE BANG ON TOP OF EACH OTHER. None of this half nibbling of the nose or upper lip. Golly, where did this excuse for a smooch come from? If we want the kiss to be big and eloquent and orgasmic without the carnal knowledge (just yet), it has got to be HUGE in scale – sultry, desperate, life affirming, breathless to the point that they couldn’t bear to stop but will have to (or they’ll both pass out). Close your eyes and fantasise about the person you would most like to kiss and imagine WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT, the blink-or-you’d-miss-it smooch would be!

Longing is exactly that – something that should take a long time. The kiss is the big moment in the film, the entrée as it were, not the side order. It’s the unspoken word of love.

Copyright Samantha van Dalen. This article first appeared on shadowlocked.com - a really excellent movie website.

Photo and Painting Copyright SvD.

Autumn rain.

It feels like the Autumn rains have arrived along with the first frost. The pink and white horse chestnut trees are losing their leaves but those of the maple, beech and oak are still a vibrant green and intact on the tree.

The British weather is unique on the world- wet, damp, grey but with the occasional bright and heavenly day. We speak endlessly about the weather because it changes every five minutes. Only the British have mastered the concept of layers which we peel off as the temperature rises throughout the day.

While our Continental neighbours moan about the lack of light in Britain, why not look at it from a different perspective? The British weather forces introspection and imagination. Could Emily Bronte have written Wuthering Heights otherwise?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Magical tree.

I'm very fortunate to be able to take long walks every day in ancient woods with my trusty hound. I lose myself on these walks and use them as my meditation.

Even more wonderful are the trees I come across- many have never been pollarded or pruned and have been left to grow as they should in their natural form.

Here's a beech from this morning's walk - majestic and almost protective.

Photo Copyright SvD.

RECIPE: Moroccan Chicken. Copyright SvD.

If you're tired of turkey this Christmas, why not have a Moroccan Chicken instead?

This probably one of my favourite recipes and although I would like to keep it a secret, I have decided to share it with you. Everyone loves chicken so this is sure to become a favourite that you can serve for your family and friends. When I make this dish, I am transported to the fragrant colourful world of riads and souks of Marrakech and Casablanca where the warm air is thick with the scent of spices and smoky incense.

If you like spicy, fragrant, juicy slow cooked meat, this recipe is for you.

This dish is ideal for novice cooks who don’t want to stretch their talents too far. In other words, it’s easy!

Moroccan Chicken is made in two parts – first the chicken is cooked on the hob for 40 minutes in a fragrant marinade, then finished in a very hot oven until golden brown.

Ingredients:

One large, plump chicken, left whole

For the marinade/sauce:

One large onion, puréed*
One large tomato, puréed*
Four cloves garlic, puréed*
(Purée these key ingredients as they will form the base for the marinade and will add a silky smoothness to the finished dish. Start by blending the onion in a food processor, and once roughly chopped, add the tomato and garlic. Stop mixing once a the ingredients are finely chopped but not watery.)

One small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
One small handful coriander, finely chopped

Two preserved lemons, finely chopped
Two bay leaves
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon ground ginger
One teaspoon black pepper
One teaspoon sea salt
One teaspoon ground cinnamon
One stick of cinnamon
Four to six strands saffron (or ½ teaspoon saffron powder)
2 tablespoons olive oil
One half teaspoon smen* - optional (*Smen is Moroccan fermented butter made of sheep or goat’s milk and flavoured with salt and herbs. Smen adds a distinctive and authentic taste to this dish but you may find it difficult to track down in London. If you do, please email to let me know as my stocks are running low.)
½ cup water

Soak the saffron strands in one tablespoon of boiling water. Leave to infuse for around 30 minutes or longer, if you can. (In Persian folklore there are stories of seasoning an entire chicken with one strand of saffron. Saffran is a very powerful spice and should be used in moderation. Saffron has been noted for its medicinal properties since ancient times; for example there are records in Sanskrit of its use in Ayurvedic medicine.)

You will need a large pot- sufficiently big to hold the chicken.

Add all the ingredients for the marinade/sauce to the pot.
Mix all the ingredients together using a wooden spoon.
Add the whole chicken to the pot. Coat the chicken all over with the mix and rub it into the flesh using your hands. Add some of the mix into the bird’s cavity. Place the pan on the heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pan tightly. Simmer the chicken for 40 minutes, covered.  After 40 minutes, remove the chicken from the pan and drain off the cooking liquid (leave the cooking sauce in the pot). Place the chicken in an oven-proof dish and roast uncovered in a very hot oven (pre-heated to 200 degrees C) for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Remove the chicken from the oven and keep warm, covered loosely with foil. Allow the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the final step.

Ingredients (for final stage):
One small handful green olives (stones removed)

Bring the cooking sauce to a boil, add the olives and cook over a medium heat, uncovered, until the sauce thickens (around 5 minutes).

To serve, pour the thickened sauce all over the chicken and garnish with thin slices of preserved lemon.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A pretty blue thing.

Photo Copyright SvD.

Falling leaves.

We fall where the wind blows us.

Photo Copyright SvD.

Watching You.

Painting & Photo Copyright SvD.

COOKING FOR ONE: Lamb chops & Spinach & Polenta Copyright SvD.

 Ingredients:


Two to three small lamb chops
 
One small packet spinach

One clove of garlic

½ cup polenta

Store cupboard ingredients*: Unsalted butter, Olive oil, salt and pepper (*you probably have these already).

Method:

Place the polenta in a pan and warm over medium heat. Stir for around two minutes until the polenta is warmed through. Add  a pinch of salt to the polenta and then one cup of water pouring it in a thin stream and stirring all the time – use a wooden spoon for this. The polenta will absorb the water quickly and will be cooked within three minutes. Take care if the polenta begins to spit – this is usually a sign that all the water has been absorbed. You should still be able to stir the polenta although by now it will feel quite stiff. Remove from the heat.

Grease a shallow baking dish or any square or oblong dish that you have to hand. Use a drop or two of olive oil only when greasing the dish. Spread the polenta in the dish and keep warm.

Rinse the spinach in a basin of cold water. Drain. Peel and squash the garlic clove (with a rolling pin). Keep the clove whole. Melt a knob of butter over medium heat. Add the drained spinach, a pinch of salt and pepper and toss over high heat until wilted – around three minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Rinse out the pan in which you cooked the spinach and add a teaspoon of olive oil. Over medium high heat, add a knob of butter and when the butter begins to foam, add the lamb chops. Speckle the side of each chop facing you with a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Count three minutes. Turn over the lamb chops and season with salt and pepper. Count two minutes. The chops will be pink at this stage. If you refer the chops medium to well done, add another one or two minutes to the cooking time.

Leave the chops to rest for a few minutes. Serve the chops and the polenta (cut into squares) with the lamb cooking juices drizzled over and the spinach on the side.

Tip: Polenta is cheap and easy to prepare. You can jazz it up with a topping such as a rich tomato sauce – throw in a few black olives and layer anchovies over the top and it becomes a meal on its own.

Polenta also tastes delicious cut in squares and fried in olive oil until crisp. However this takes a while and uses up a fair amount of olive oil.

When cooking polenta, always use double the quantity of water to polenta: so ½ cup polenta, one cup water. One cup polenta, two cups water etc.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

COOKING FOR ONE: Pork with prunes/Kasha and Slavic Slaw Copyright SvD.



One medium-sized pork chop – cheaper cuts like shoulder work just as well
  
One large shallot

One clove of garlic

One small handful pitted prunes

Splash cognac or armagnac

¼ cup crème fraîche

Half a cup Roasted buckwheat – kasha

One egg

One cup water

One small red onion

¼ cup sauekraut

½ cup grated carrot

Store cupboard ingredients*: Olive oil, salt and pepper (*you probably have these already).

Method:

Cut the pork into bite-sized cubes. Discard the fat if you have to.

Peel and finely chop the shallot and garlic.

Heat a tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add the shallot and fry until brown – around four minutes. Add the garlic and the pork.. Stir the pan occasionally to prevent sticking. The pork should begin to brown after two minutes. Once the pork is lightly browned, add the cognac/armagnac. Make sure that all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan have been dislodged and wait for the alcohol to evaporate completely. Add the crème fraîche and enough water to barely cover the meat. Add the prunes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well, bring to the boil then reduce the heat down to low. Cover the pan and leave the mixture to simmer for at least twenty minutes.

While the pork is simmering, break the egg into a small bowl and lightly beat it. Place the kasha in a pan and add the egg. Combine well. Place the pan over medium heat and keep stirring the kasha until it is fragrant – around three minutes. Add one cup of water to the pan and a pinch of salt. Allow the mixture to boil then cover the pan and simmer on the lowest possible heat for five minutes.

Finally, prepare the slaw. Peel and halve the onion. Slice into half moons as finely as you can. Separate the slices and place in a ceramic bowl. Squeeze the sauerkraut (to remove excess liquid) and add to the bowl. Lastly, peel and grate the carrot – around one medium carrot – and add to the bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and toss all the ingredients together.

Serve the pork stew with the kasha and finish the meal with the slaw.

Tip: you can replace the crème fraîche with double cream if you fancy a richer version of the dish.

Plain, boiled potatoes go well with the dish. But do try the kasha – it cooks quickly – faster than potatoes -  and it is very nutritious.

When cooking kasha, always add double the quantity in water – so ½ cup kasha, + one cup water, one cup kasha + two cups water etc.



Tuesday, 18 September 2012

RECIPE: Fish with Chermoula. Copyright SvD.


Chermoula is a marinade made with herbs and spices that is very popular in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. The basic ingredients for chermoula are olive oil, garlic and coriander. In Morocco parsley, cumin and paprika are also added and the marinade is used to coat seafood or fish before grilling. If you don’t have an outdoor BARBEQUE at your disposal, you can make this recipe in an oven instead. Vegetarians find chermoula a delicious addition to roasted or grilled vegetables. For a more intense flavour to the chermoula you can add puréed onions, chilli peppers and even saffron. Do experiment with what you like!

Chermoula ingredients:

One large bunch coriander
One small bunch parsley
Six-eight cloves garlic, finely chopped
One third of a cup of olive oil
One tablespoon paprika (smoked paprika works very well or you can use plain)
One tablespoon paprika
One teaspoon salt
Good grinding of black pepper
Pinch saffron threads, soaked in hot water and cooled
Juice of one large lemon

Purée all the ingredients together in a food processor. The chermoula should be thick and creamy in consistency. You can store the chermoula in the fridge for up to one week in a sealed container.

Rub the chermoula all over a large fish such as whole cod, coley, haddock or pollack. Make sure the fish has been thoroughly descaled before you begin. White fish works best for this recipe although you may want to experiment using a large whole salmon. Using a sharp knife, make deep incisions along the length of the fish. Rub the chermoula into these incisions. Place a good dollop of the chermoula into the fish cavity as well.  Lay the fish in a baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated very hot oven (220 degrees C) for one hour (smaller fish such as whole mackerel, plaice, halibut, bream, mullet, will take much less time and should be ready in twenty minutes). Serve the fish whole at the table allowing guests to help themselves to the succulent flesh.

For a quick mid week supper, you can use fillets of your favourite fish. Drizzle the chermoula over the fillets, cover with foil and bake for twenty minutes (at 220 degrees C).

Boiled new potatoes or couscous go particularly well with this recipe.

Instead of fish, why not try this vegetarian option.

Roasted vegetables with chermoula

Ingredients:

One medium courgette, cut into quarters lengthways
Three bell peppers, of different colours, deseeded and cut unto quarters
One bunch asparagus
One medium aubergine, sliced into thick rounds
One large onion, peeled and cut into quarters and layers separated

Place all the vegetables onto a baking tray. Season with a pinch of salt, black pepper and a small amount of olive oil. Toss the vegetables well to coat with the oil. If liked, add a few sprigs rosemary or thyme to the vegetables. Place in a medium oven (170 degrees C) and roast uncovered for around 40 minutes until the vegetables are beginning to brown at the edges and have wilted. You may want to check the vegetables a few times during cooking and toss them occasionally.

Serve the vegetables warm with small bowls of the chermoula on the side.

Enjoy!!!!


RECIPE: Chicken with preserved lemon. Copyright SvD.

I do all my meat and veg shopping at a biodynamic farm in East Sussex where the meat is very flavoursome and the vegetables taste like vegetables. The chicken at the farm is quite gamey and the  tartness of the preserved lemon balances it nicely.

Ingredients:

One whole chicken cut into half, then quarters and then separated into pieces (you can also use thighs and drumsticks only for this recipe if you prefer).

Two preserved lemons

One large onion

Few sprigs thyme

Dash dry white wine.
Two cups chicken stock or water

Handful fresh chives

Unsalted butter

Olive oil,

Salt and pepper

White flour

Method:

Dredge the chicken pieces lightly in flour. Dust off excess flour.

Heat around one third of a cup of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add a knob of butter. When the butter begins to foam, add the chicken pieces and brown for approximately three to four minutes on each side. Note: you can remove the skin and then dust the meat in flour if you are worried about fat. While the chicken is browning, peel and finely slice the onion into rings. Once the chicken has browned, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. You may wish to remove some of the oil and leave around a tablespoon only in the pan. Now add the onion and stir to brown evenly (around seven minutes). Do keep the onion slices moving in the pan so they do not burn.

Add the dash of white wine and scrape up all the bits in the pan. Increase the heat sufficiently for the wine to bubble and reduce quickly.

Slice the lemon as thinly as you possibly can – the slices should be as thin as paper if possible. Discard the seeds. Add the lemon slices to the pan along with the thyme. Return the chicken to the pan and add the chicken stock or water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the pan contents to the boil, cover and reduce to a bare simmer. 

Leave to simmer gently for around 45 minutes.

The chicken is ready when it falls away easily from the bone and the sauce is thick, unctuous and fragrant.

Garnish the chicken with very finely chopped chives.

Serve the chicken with crispy roast potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Tip: cooking is about texture. Crispy potatoes complement the tangy melt-in-the-mouth chicken and steamed vegetables provide a clean and fresh-tasting accompaniment to the meal. If liked, dress the vegetables with a dash of balsamic vinegar and a good quality extra virgin oil just before serving.

Dancing grasshopper.

No, he's not dancing but seen from his underside as he sits (outside) on the window.


Monday, 17 September 2012

The most beautiful things are free.

Here's a daisy from a field near my home.

Photo copyright SvD.

Moving to London?



PROPERTY ARTICLE: How to furnish a flat for rental. Copyright SvD.

 
How to furnish a flat for rental

I am often asked by landlords for advice on furnishing a property for letting. Some landlords go a little crazy when furnishing a property and can overdo it somewhat by using the wrong colour paint, chintzy furnishings and too may trinkets laying around which serve absolutely no purpose.. Other landlords seem to think that a furnished property means basic furniture but no appliances. Others provide furniture and appliances but no cutlery or pots and pans! So what is the happy medium?

The first obvious thing to consider is that a happy tenant will stay in the property and be a good asset which can only benefit the landlord. Tenants should not be shy of insisting that a furnished flat is indeed furnished. Take nothing at face value and ask questions. I recently let a one bedroom flat that was supposedly furnished but there were no kitchen utensils or small appliances. These items are not that expensive to buy and a small investment up front could keep a tenant for many years to come.

Here are some ideas for the basic items that one should find in a furnished property:

For the kitchen: one basic set of pots and pans. One set of glasses for drinking water. Two to four coffee mugs. A set of cutlery. Cooking utensils such as a set of knives, a chopping board, a bread knife. A set of  (four) plates, both dinner and side plates.

For each bedroom: one set of sheets including duvet and duvet cover. Pillow cases. Eiderdown or blankets. Mattress cover. One bed and at least one side table per bed. Note: mattress covers extend the life of mattresses and are widely available.

Bathroom: one set of new towels- face cloth, hand towel and bath towel. One bathmat placed near either the shower cubicle or bath. A vanity cupboard above the bath sink to store personal items.

Living room: one sofa or two arm chairs. One coffee table or side tables for the sofa or chairs. Bookcase which can double up as TV stand and stereo stand. Adequate lighting to read at night (a good reading light is always a thoughtful touch from the landlord).

Dining room: dining table and chairs (four chairs or more for larger apartments or two chairs for a studio). Sideboard (optional).

Lighting: all lights should be covered with a shade or other appropriate fixture – please, no naked bulbs. I have seen upmarket flats with naked bulbs throughout. The usual excuse is that the property is a new build and the tenant could install fixtures of their choosing. This is grossly unfair.

Windows: curtains and black out blinds. Again, I have seen expensive properties with no curtains! Black out blinds are a thoughtful addition especially since London suffers with terrible light pollution.

Flooring: adequate flooring such as wood effect or carpet in a neutral colour.  There are very good laminates available at a lesser cost than real wood. The same applies for carpets- choose a good quality that is durable.

Finally, landlords, remember that a rental property is not your home but temporary accommodation for a tenant. As such, landlords should remember not to place expensive items or family heirlooms that once damaged or lost, can never be replaced!


PROPERTY ARTICLE: How to make the best use of an ultra-small space. Copyright SvD.

 
How to make the best use of an ultra-small space.

Savvy landlords always invest in either studios or one bedroom apartments in those areas popular with city workers and professionals. There is always demand for smaller flats in the most popular areas in London. Even the smallest studio can generate a return. Here are some ideas for maximising space in the tiniest of flats!

1.         Make every square inch work. The bed can take up one corner but why not hoist the bed onto a deck and make use of the space underneath? You could place a desk and chair underneath for a study area or use that space for storage. Alternately, install a bunk bed so that friends or family will have a bed too when they visit! Better yet, consider a retractable bed that disappears during the day.

2.         Storage. In the kitchen area, ensure there is storage for pots and pans, glasses and cutlery. Overhead cupboards should be reachable by short people too. If there is only room for one cupboard in the flat, ensure that inside the space is divided for hanging coats and drawers for socks, underwear, pullovers etc plus a shoe rack as well.

3.         Bathroom- if space is limited in the kitchen area, you may have to consider sacrificing the bathtub for a shower cubicle instead and using the saved space to install the washing machine/dryer combination. Install a bigger sink which can double up for washing laundry by hand if need be.

4.         Think minimalist- every single item in the studio should have a practical value and should double up if required. In other words, shelving contains hidden storage. Dining chairs can be folded away or are comfortable enough to be used as sitting room chairs as well. Do not overcrowd the walls or shelves with too many paintings or trinkets- these crowd the small space and make it seem even smaller. 

5.         Define areas.  Create pathways from one defined area to the next. In other words, the living area should appear separate to the sleeping area or dining area. This method of separating and defining opens up the space and makes it functional. For example, place a two-seater sofa with a small tables on either side in the ‘living’ area. This will take up less space than two separate armchairs, for example. Similarly, the dining ‘area’ can be a small table and two chairs but with a cleared pathway between the living and eating space.

6.         Colour. Paler shades of paint make a space seem bigger and brighter than it actually is. Do not use darker matte shades which can be overwhelming and claustrophobic in tiny rooms. Do not even think about black, red or purple (believe me, I’ve seen it all). The same applies for bathroom and kitchen areas- choose appliances and fittings in white every time, and which has the added benefit of being cheaper as well.

PROPERTY ARTICLE: Government to scrap second home council tax discount. Copyright SvD.

 
Government to scrap second home council tax discount

The government has announced plans to scrap the second home council tax discount- what will be the implications for homeowners and landlords?

A client once showed me around his property portfolio in Central London which consisted of at least ten flats and a couple of houses in prime Central London. As I recall, the properties were all sumptuously furnished, spacious, in perfect condition and their value was stratospheric. Yet still my client never used them and the properties lay empty year-in and year-out. When I suggested that he could possibly rent them out and obtain a return on the money he had spent buying them, I was met with an incredulous look. Hence the reason it is said that if you drive through certain parts of London in the evening, you can tell which flats are owned by absentee owners- because the lights never come on!

Previously the government had allowed second home ownership to benefit from a few perks- notably a reduced council tax bill. All that is about to change and soon the council tax will be increased to its normal rate. The government is hoping that the increased taxation will force owners to rent out their properties and put them back in the market where a shortage of homes in certain areas is chronic. The other outcome that the government is hoping for would be to drive down prices and make the homes more affordable especially to locals who are priced out of the market. The move may encourage owners to offer their homes for letting instead of keeping them purely for the odd holiday for their families. The main objective for the government is to increase revenue to fill their coffers and whilst some may applaud the move I do think that hard-working families who have saved to afford a second home should not be penalised either.

With regards to empty properties such as those owned by my client in London as I mentioned before, the current rules are that if the property is empty and unfurnished there is no council tax to be paid for up to 6 months. If the property is furnished, the discount is 10%. In the days that I managed properties on behalf of landlords, I found councils to be quite fair on this issue and were willing to take the agent’s word or to offer rebates and credits. It is worth noting that council tax will be frozen for the next two years in a bid to help hard-pressed families. However owners should note that increases in the cost of policing, or budgets for parish councils, for example, and which are separate to the basic council tax tend to go up on an annual basis so there is always an increased council tax to pay regardless. Owners should take these incremental increases into account that is if they plan to keep their properties empty. Although given that the lettings market is busier than ever, homeowners should do well to become landlords and get their properties to work for them!

PROPERTY ARTICLE: How to get a better rent on your London property. Copyright SvD.

 
How to get a better rent on your London property

As a relocation agent I am frequently in and out of rental properties all over London. Some landlords keep their rental properties in excellent condition and have got it right in terms of décor and maximum usage of space. Other landlords get very low marks indeed and seem to think that even though their property is run-down and in need to repair, they should still be able to command a high rent. Not so!

Here’s a simple example of the type of thing I come across regularly and which puts off my clients (the tenants) completely. I recently showed a three bedroomed property to a client in Battersea. It was ideal in terms of the internal layout, the quality of the furnishings and best of all, its proximity to the children’s school. There was one drawback: the front door and pergola to the front of the house were badly in need of repair. The wood had rotted away in parts causing the pergola to lean perilously to one side and the paint on the front door was peeling off. Both the pergola and door had last experienced some tender loving care many moons ago. One of the terms of my client’s offer was for cosmetic repairs to be carried out to make the pergola safe and for both to be repainted. The landlord refused outright.  Needless to say, my client chose another property instead.

There are a couple of issues worth raising based on this story. Firstly, the letting agent should have informed the landlord that the property needed to be in reasonable condition in order for a good rent to be achieved. The pergola and front door should have been fixed long ago as par for the course.

Secondly, ongoing maintenance is cheaper. Once a tenant moves out a rental property should be freshly painted and cleaned professionally in readiness for the new occupier. Not all properties need to be painted in between tenancies especially if the tenancy has been very short (common sense here) but any scruff marks should either be removed through cleaning or painted over. The benefit to the landlord is obvious: he will expect the property back in the same condition as he handed it over to the tenant.

The same applies to kitchen and bathrooms. Tired bathrooms and kitchens can be a real turn-off to prospective tenants. Ready-made kitchen units are widely available on the high street and tend to be reasonably priced. Installing a fully fitted kitchen including all appliances can be as little as £1,000. (if you buy free standing units). And installing a new toilet, sink, bathtub or shower can be less than £2,000. Here’s a useful tip to landlords: when installing kitchens or bathrooms, do ensure that the ventilation is efficient. Inadequate ventilation can cause long-term damage through condensation build up and can be promote the growth of toxic mould. So remember: Tenants will be willing to pay more and will probably stay longer in properties that are maintained and presented in good order making it a win-win situation for both landlord and tenant!

PROPERTY ARTICLE: London property and the Euro. Copyright SvD.

 
London property and the euro

I’ve just read a very interesting article about global companies offloading their euros and converting them to the USD. It seems to me that the exit of Greece from the euro is pretty imminent and we could all wake up tomorrow and have to find drachmas for our next holiday in Crete. But what are the implications for the London property market which continues to defy the odds?

Given that the vast majority of buyers of London are from overseas, it would be logical to assume that London property continues to be regarded as a safe haven. London defies the odds year-in –year-out with prices creeping up steadily in spite of the financial crisis of 2008 and the ongoing recession. There is talk of European buyers flooding the market and capital flight- whereby bank deposits are emptied in countries in crisis and the money is spirited overseas- is rampant –ask any estate agent in Central London and the Square Mile.

To make matters simple, picture this- should Greece ditch the euro and go back to the drachma, the value of the drachma could be less than half of the euro. So effectively anyone with savings would see their savings dramatically reduced. A word about capital flight though- it weakens the economy even further because liquidity in the system is stymied.

I’ve also heard that luxury properties in the South of France for example, are remaining unsold- the rich foreign elite aren’t even spending on their dream homes, a sure sign that even they are biding their time to see what happens. I recently spoke to an Arab client about their investment plans. He asked me to look anywhere but Europe!

My own personal view is that London will continue to buck the worldwide trend but as the great spiritual masters remind us, nothing lasts forever. The repercussions of the eurozone crisis will be felt far and wide and stem from an economic quagmire that will not be resolved by any amount of rescue lending or enforced austerity. Eventually London will feel the effects of a failed currency and mass unemployment from across the Channel. The financial markets will become even more volatile and the net result is tighter controls on lending and less investment- both with a negative impact on growth.

There is also the question of the strength of sterling against the euro and USD. Eventually too sterling will be readjusted as the biggest trading partner the UK has is with Europe. Sterling is currently being propped up by quantitative easing and low interest rates that the Central Bank is hoping will make British exports more attractive (and which in turn will kick start growth). In a worst-case scenario, sterling will get weaker and the ripple effect will result in stagnant growth in the property sector. So in the medium to long term the prospects for continued growth in London property values will largely depend on what is happening in Europe.

London agents remain very optimistic about the prospects of continued appreciation of Central London property. Interest from overseas buyers has not waned and remains strong right up to the top end of the property market. And as long as that is the case, London will remain a startling phenomenon of hope over experience.

PROPERTY ARTICLE: The Safest Borough in London. Copyright SvD.

 
Which is the safest borough in London?

A client who has very young kids recently asked me which London borough is the safest place to raise a family. I have to admit that I did not know the answer straight away. Like most people, I consider London to be a relatively danger-free city and as long as one follows basic common sense, it is a very safe place to live and work. However my client’s question got me feeling somewhat curious and so I went off in search of a response.

According to the Metropolitan Police, crime overall in the capital has stabilised. The annual figures confirm that for the last three years, the total number of crimes committed in the capital averaged 82,000. per year. The figure for 2011 was marginally down on the previous year and the trend thus far for 2012 looks set to remain the same. Although the trend is encouraging, these figures are still too high and a drastic reduction would be welcomed by London residents, visitors and tourists alike.

The most prolific crime in the capital is violence against a person which accounts for around 20% of all crime committed in the capital every year. The most dangerous borough for this type of crime is Ealing with Westminster, Croydon, Newham, Brent, Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets all following in near numbers. The safest borough for encountering violence against a person is Kingston Upon Thames followed very closely by Richmond Upon Thames, Bexley and Kensington & Chelsea.

The second most prevalent crime in the capital is theft from a motor vehicle. The most likely place to have your car broken into is Wandsworth followed by Newham, Waltham Forest and Kensington & Chelsea. The safest place to park your car without fear of a break-in appears to be Kingston Upon Thames followed closely by Richmond Upon Thames and Sutton.

The third most prevalent crime is residential burglary. Densely populated and prosperous boroughs like Kensington & Chelsea (where the highest incidence was recorded), Islington, Camden, Westminster, Greenwich, Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham are popular targets for thieves.
The lowest incidence of residential burglary is in Sutton, followed by Kingston Upon Thames and Richmond Upon Thames.

I should have noted that the highest type of crime across the capital is antisocial behaviour but I have deliberately omitted those figures from this article simply because the crime itself encompasses everything from begging in the street to harassment to racial slurs to substance abuse et al. The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 was amended to the Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003 and the revised act includes a very long list indeed of offences considered antisocial. Most of my clients and professionals moving to London tend to rate burglary and violence as the barometers for defining a safe society. No doubt antisocial behaviour is a rising and worrying trend in London and one wonders how it will ever be eradicated completely, as we all know people are usually their own worst enemies.

PROPERTY ARTICLE: The Shard of Glass. Copyright SvD.

 
THE SHARD OF GLASS

I practically live in London Bridge Station – just joking but I am there very often on my way to meet clients in the City. I have watched the Shard take shape and now that it is ready (and open on the 05th July) I am as intrigued as most people will be to see just who will be moving in to London’s tallest building.

The Shard of Glass, as it will be known, is Western Europe’s tallest building standing at 1,030 ft (310 metres). Once completed, there will be 72 floors of which floors 53-65 will comprise 62,129 sq ft (5,772 m2) of luxury residential apartments. The apartments have not officially gone on sale but there are rumours of price tags of around £30- £50m per apartment.

Apart from residences, the Shard will contain office space (floors 2-28), restaurants (floors 31-33), a five star hotel (floors 34-52) and above the residences, an observatory stretching from floors 68-72 (the top floor).

Given that the finance which funded the building is a form of sharia compliant investment, it is unlikely that the tenants permitted will have any connections with alcohol or gambling. No figures have been revealed yet with regards to the rent for the office and commercial areas but it will be on par with if not more than the City and Canary Wharf which average around £40-£50 per sq ft.

The Shard is likely to become a major tourist attraction as it is estimated that the public viewing gallery in the Observatory will draw two million visitors per year.

The buzz is that the apartments will easily sell as the London property market remains extremely buoyant and defies the downward property price trend in the rest of the country. It is clear that all if not most buyers of the Shard apartments will be foreign as London property continues to be seen as a safe haven. A surge of buyers from France (now that Sarkozy has lost the election) is expected to descend on the capital in the near future.

The apartments will be at a height equivalent to the ‘cloud ceiling’ in the capital which is around 700ft. So in other words residents will be able to look out and see the clouds below them as they would if they were in an airplane. London’s notoriously cloudy and wet weather will limit exceptional views of residents hoping to see the sea some 44 miles away, to perhaps a few days of the year only.

A second building, albeit, much shorter will be built nearby. This building will be known as London Bridge Place and together with the Shard, they will form the London Bridge Quarter. The Southwark area where the Shard has been built is in need of regeneration. As a regular commuter in and out of London Bridge Station I am hoping that the station itself and the immediate vicinity will be greatly improved and refurbished when the Shard opens for business; currently the station is a disgrace for such a prosperous area. Apart from the very popular Borough market, the area is in need of a shot in the arm to compete with more coveted areas such as Knightsbridge and Kensington. If all of the Shard apartments sell at the asking price, it will provide a strong impetus to developers that the area will indeed become prime residential investment in the London property sector.

PROPERTY ARTICLE: The School Dilemma. Copyright SvD.

 
The School Dilemma

One the tasks I frequently have as a relocation agent is to help clients find schools for their kids. I, myself, took the whole school search aspect of my job as pretty straightforward- how wrong was I!  Never in my wildest dreams did I have any idea of how difficult it can be to match a rental property with a state school for children to attend. Many clients come to me tearing their hair out at what they consider the injustice of it all. And here’s why….

When a client comes over to live in London, they typically have an idea of where they would like to live. Usually they have friends or friends of friends who recommend a certain area over another. The client will ask me to first explore their accommodation options in that particular area. I then have to remind them that if they plan to send their kids to state funded schools – i.e free to attend and not paying schools- there are certain requirements that are cast in stone.

Firstly, the parents need an address. In other words, they need to prove that they do indeed qualify for their children to attend a state school as they need to live within the catchment area for that school. Proof consists of utility bills. The parents usually cannot do this as they are moving into the area and will have no tenure to show. The school will therefore reject them outright.

Secondly, the waiting list for performing and high-end state schools is several miles long. So even if the parents  manage to scrape together the required proof of address, they will probably end up at the bottom of the waiting list- behind those with a longer tenure in the area.

Thirdly, siblings are given preference. If a sibling is already attending the school, their sibling will move up the waiting list. So the parents who have just moved into the area slide further down the waiting list.

Fourthly, it is pretty pointless moving into an area in the hope that the child(ren) will automatically qualify to attend the preferred school. The nightmare chicken-and-egg scenario is a costly mistake to make- there are zero guarantees that once the family moves into the home in their preferred location that the children will qualify to  attend a nearby state school.

Fifthly, parents should be aware that places only become available towards or at the end of each term when families move out of the area and kids change schools.  But by that time, the family hoping for a place will have had to abandon their quest altogether as again, there are no guarantees and waiting lists typically get longer, not drastically shorter.

The best time to stand any chance of securing a place is to keep in constant contact with the registrar at the schools- an exhausting and time-consuming task.

Failing that, I typically advise families to give up on their preferred location and I find them an alternative area where with any luck, they will be just as happy and their children will settle into a great school.

PROPERTY ARTICLE: Maintenance. Copyright SvD.

 
Maintenance

As a relocation agent I frequently hear horror stories from tenants about leaking taps that never get fixed, blocked toilets or broken down appliances that never get replaced or repaired. Many of these tenants end up leaving the property and falling out with their landlords.

First I should point out that many landlords and lettings agents do operate in good faith and have the interests of the tenants at heart. However like in every other sphere of life, there can be bad apples.

In the days that I used to manage properties (on behalf of the landlords), I can remember one particular tenant who was either very accident prone or just plain clueless – she managed to break a clothes dryer three times, flood her flat (and her neighbours below) by leaving the bath overflowing and block the toilet several times. The landlord was very accommodating until he totted up all the expenses he had paid out over 12 months on various repairs. From that moment on, the tenant was made aware that she would have to pay out of her own pocket for any further mishaps of her own doing.

Landlords are obliged to keep all appliances in working order and all plumbing and electrical appliances safe to use. However if a tenant causes the bath to overflow and floods the neighbours below, the tenant can be held liable for repairs. In the case of burst pipes (very common in our old buildings in London), the landlord will be able to seek relief from his insurers and if the property is part of a block of flats, for example, the building’s insurers will probably contribute to the repairs.

In the case of broken appliances, there is a rule of thumb that certain appliances such as toasters, kettles, vacuum cleaners should be replaced rather than repaired. It is not unreasonable for a landlord to refuse to replace an appliance more than once during the term of the tenancy. Furthermore, if the item was brand new at the commencement of the lease, the landlord can refuse outright to replace it. Common sense should prevail in all instances.

For larger appliances such as washing machines, dryers, cooking stoves and ovens, the landlord is advised to obtain a service agreement with the manufacturer. The originals of the appliance manuals should be left in the property so the tenant is aware of how to properly use the appliances. Normally the lettings agent is in charge of arranging the servicing agreements with the manufacturers or organising repairs of the appliances. The agent pays for these repairs from a small float left in their care by the landlord (or deducted at source when the agent collects the rent).

Finally, landlords should expect their lettings agents if they are managing the property on their behalf, to inspect the property regularly- at least at three month intervals. I recently did a viewing with a client at an expensive flat in Chelsea where the outgoing tenants clearly had an aversion to cleaning. In such a case, the lettings agent could have sent a cleaner round and charged it to the tenant plus insist that the tenant employ a cleaner to go in at least once per week. The outgoing tenants were obviously damaging the prospects of the landlord finding new tenants and were also in breach of the terms of their lease.