Half empty

The house in the Shali where we are supposed to be living in Siwa needed major work doing to it before we could move in. After Christmas is was really difficult getting any workers to do… anything. The workers had no respect for me and did as they pleased… when they pleased. For weeks no one showed up and progress was painfully slow.
· Penny has one gas ring on the floor of the ‘fitted kitchen’ in the house we are renting and the well dried up in January making her have to go to the stand pipe in town to collect water in a donkey cart to THEN do the laundry by hand.
· Having no jeep due to it breaking down in the desert with my parents, we had to also carry thousands and thousands of bricks by hand in the back of donkey carts…oh yes…
· Sasha had no friends and did not know what to do with her free time after school.
· Claudia could not get a sewing kit… anywhere!
· Angus fell over on to a ‘pine needle’ and had to have gas and air to have it taken out.
· The jeep was finally fixed and on the way to Alexandra to triumphantly pick up much needed supplies… this goes and happens.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the desert
· Due to a small bit of red tape, we had to stop building our house in Croatia last year and so I had to come back to Vis to finish it now in minus 6 degree temperatures.
· On the day of me leaving Siwa at the beginning of February the main sewage system collapsed under the Shali house. Penny had no workers, no idea which century the sewage system had last seen the council come out to do any repairs and the entire village was due to come out of the mosque across the road half and hour after this picture was taken… and she still had to collect the water for washing in plastic barrels from the stand pipe when she got home.
· To just go and finish the house on Vis would have been bad enough. I had to now go to Vis first to collect my ‘criminal record’, the one I had just spent months getting to Vis through the UK ‘system’ and registered post, as I now needed a stamp on it… from London.
· A week in London sorting out ‘the stamp’ I return thinking nothing else can go wrong this year…to find I need… one…more… stamp… which the lawyer said would take one week. But due to Vis recently getting a new Mayor and a new ‘plan for building’ being required due to the change of council… the plan, and therefore the stamp…will not be ready for…wait for it…
…one year.
· We probably have the only house on Vis that has ALL the right permissions and documentation to build a house. I have spent over a year painstakingly getting all the paper work in order. Due to an unknown jealous local who has gone through great lengths to get our project stopped, he (bad guys are never femaleJ) has now finally succeeded. We now have to wait for the ‘arm that lifts the stamp’ to heal in hopefully one year whilst houses that have no permission what so every continue to be built. They say Croatia is a very ‘nationalist’ country. What can I say?
· Our plan was to sell the house here on Vis so we could get the property going in Romania this summer and have enough money for a smooth landing when we come back to the UK in Sept before I go off to develop the next piece of land on Vis allowing me to not have to go back to the 7.45am to Kings Cross.
· Due to not being able to sell the house here until after we get back to the UK has a somewhat mega negative effect on our budgeting and getting a job in the ‘Interactive TV Business’ on my return is definitely not something I am looking forward to.
· After all that blood sweat and tears of buying that land in Romania, (have a look at ‘You thought buying a house in the UK was hard’) we will now have to sell it to cover our costs just before Romania joins the EU and the value of it goes through the roof.
And it’s only February…
To all the sceptics on our travel log email list, and you know who you are. You’re sitting there with a bit of a smile on your face and a big ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’ going through your head. You probably think we’re having a nightmare and we wish we had stayed in St Albans and never bought all this bloody land.
Well you wrong… your so, so, wrong.
We would not change our lives for anything at the moment. We are very much alive and kicking butt.
We’re buzzing!
Yeah, a shit load has not gone according to plan since Boxing Day 2004.
Everything above is all true. That IS the situation… but so is this.

Half Full

About a year and a half before we left the UK, Penny was nervous about quoting a few sq meters of tiling on someone’s kitchen floor. After all most tilers where men, what would the woman she was visiting think when she found out she was a woman? Getting back to her own goals in life and working was hard after years of focusing on raising kids. Penny has always had a dream of ‘going off to Africa when the kids are grown up to help some little village somewhere dig a well or something and give something back’. That dream, Penny has always thought… would always be, just a dream.
I left Penny a few weeks ago with no workers and a collapsed main sewage system that affected our whole corner of the village. In Siwa a lot of men shake my hand and ignore Penny, as they don’t know how to greet women. Their wives live a very different life to St Albans and have no communication with men outside there close family.
In the last two weeks Penny has…
· Fixed the sewage system under our house and where it collapsed in front of the mosque.
· Built a team of fifteen workers who turn up everyday and do as they are told.
· Gone off to Alexandra 500 km’s away to source the stone she wants to tile the 130sq meters of floor space on the ground floor. The five tonne truck she booked… was not big enough and she had to get a bigger one.
· Built the kitchen and a 3-meter high wall around the garden.
· Had a guy carve the hand washbasin and shower tray in the bathroom out of two big pieces of solid stone and negotiated the price down from £35 to…£30.
· Designed a 15 foot long dinning room table and had it made out of olive wood with 7 high backed chairs and an imitation mud bench.
· Covered the concrete ceiling with palm trees
· Learnt how to make ‘stained glass’ windows out of salt blocks.
· Become involved in a local initiative to help local women improve their lives and realise they can do more…
· Taken the kids swimming every day
· Basically built us a four-bed house that will be in our ‘desert family home’ for ever.
· Lived her dream… a bit earlier than planned. Apparently the locals are very grateful for the reduced ‘smell’ outside the mosque.

The roof of the house as it was when I left

The bathroom and chimney as I left it two weeks ago.
I have never heard her so happy on the phone or felt more proud of what she is doing. She has a real sense of achievement and has won the respect of the local trades men due to her knowledge and skill of building… and they haven’t seen her tile yet!

Penny buzzing after steaming down a sand dune in a buggy.
And as for the water problems in the house… it’s simple, the kids go swimming and we just HUMMMMM…

The kids swimming on a day off in our house keepers garden.
Sasha… Sasha had the tuff task of ‘herding’ the donkey cart boys into going down to the pile of bricks on the edge of town and managing the whole process of buying thousands of bricks and getting them back to the house. She would then be responsible for getting the boys food and drink after the work was finished. They are all about 16, they loon around town, they all speak English and walk on the wild side a bit.
Sasha is a grown up 13 year old now and went from ‘Mum, can I watch a video’ to ‘Mum what time do I have to back?’ in a matter of days.
The teenager switch has been flicked.

Sasha chatting with Mustafa the house keeper… looking like she’s getting a ticking off.
She goes off every day after school with her new friends and is having the time of her life. We don’t know what she is getting up to. All I do know is Sasha has turned out to be a very responsible and nice kid and is very capable of taking care of her self.
Claudia found her sewing kit…started making bags… and has been ‘discovered’ by Ali who is now buying bags off her and selling them in his shop. I spoke to Claudia on the phone yesterday.
‘Claudia, are you happy?’
‘YES DADDY!’ and explained the whole deal with Ali and how her and Angus are only allowed a certain amount of mixed concrete for their moulds for the shop they are building on the roof of the house.
‘Other wise Daddy the builders will just be mixing the cement for us and the house will NEVER get done!’
She’s happy and feeling good about her self.

Claudia at a ‘cut the heart of the palm’ party.
When Angus came back from hospital, the WHOLE town asked him how he was. When your eight years old, to be asked by a village elder, how you were, and be able to pull a whopper of a palm needle out of your pocket to show him ‘JUST HOW BIG IT REALLY WAS!’
… is cool.
Angus is fixed on the sand boarding and is really keen to get out into the desert more and learn. He walks out of the house where we live and if there is not a game of football going on where he would just join in… there would be one starting in a few minutes… now he was there.

Angus doing what he loves best, sandboarding!
Sasha and Angus go to football training once a week with Siwa United. I’m sure they aren’t called United, a better name would be like Siwa Inshali. They haven’t had an away match yet. That should be interesting as the next town is 300km’s across the desert.

Me… all this shit with the house on Vis?
I look at it this way…
Wizz Air has just announced they are running flights into Split this summer, it’s the big one we have been waiting for… and this will have a major effect. You can get here in June for £4 plus taxes. Don’t forget Croatia is also joining the EU in a year or so.
Due to local politics I have no choice but to moth ball our investment and do nothing with it for a year or so. I am so chuffed to be going home and not staying here working out in the cold every day away from my family. I can finally sit in the palm trees and not feel I should be doing something else. I can’t… the next four months are MINE!
The house is currently valued at €400,000… yes €400,000. I hope you sceptics are still reading. A year of brits flying in and buying up everything the year before Croatia joins the EU is likely to have a fairly major effect on the value.
When the house is all done and finally sold I want to go and find the ‘jealous one’ and buy him a drink.
‘Thanks for stopping me sell the house mate. It went up a €100,000 in one year!’
He’ll be gutted!
I had a week’s holiday in the UK meeting up with everyone and had a great time. Pitty it was a total waist of time business wise, but it was a great holiday.
Not being able to sell the house does screw us financially. We have put a deposit on a great piece of land here on Vis and may well not be able to pay the remaining €30,000 in time loosing our deposit and a great investment that is now worth more…
…then you have to take stock and look at the bigger picture.
I worked my balls off for 25 years and still didn’t ‘own’ my own house in the UK when I left. The building society owns it like 95% of the people I know under the age of 50.
We own… as in have the Title deeds to:
· 56 acres of prime lakeside land on the edge of Siwa
· A 130 sqm town house in the Shali in Siwa that has a 130sqm terrace on the roof.
· Two more houses and a donkey shed in Siwa.
· An acre of beach and 29 tsunami proof coconut trees that are all still there on the best surfing beach in the world. The surf is better than ever and the town’s spirit is very much alive and kicking.
· Two acres of vineyard with a four-bed stone house on it, first to a private sandy beach, two hours from London on a plane that now costs £4!
· A 70 sqm house on another sandy beach on the island on Vis with half an acre of land.
· Another acre of land up the valley a bit on Vis covered in trees.
· Six acres of land in Romania that we will get permission to build three houses on this summer.

All bought and paid for ( apart from the €30,000 we still owe). This has all been achieved whilst writing a book and playing pool with my kids in various different bars around the world.
We have a bigger mortgage than when we left, about the same as most of our peers… but if we (could) sell the lot now we could pay our mortgage off and still have one or two acres left over.
We will package our land up in Romania to sell this summer that is now worth twice what we paid for it to bank roll the ‘year the stamp would not fall’ and… well we’ll just have to find go and find another piece of land in Romania when we sell the house on Vis for €500,000.
Getting a job in the interactive TV business would be very hard when I come home. That’s because Sky TV wanted to control the whole thing and has screwed the whole industry. Good thing I got out!
I’m not sure what I’ll do in my ‘year of the stamp’ back home but… I have designed and built three houses now, a wooden beach house in Norfolk, a stone house on Vis and a ‘mud looking’ concrete house in Siwa . I can manage a team of Bosnian or Croatian workers who don’t speak ANY English… as I now know enough Croatian to talk to them in their own language. I know how build foundations reinforced with concrete so you could put five stories on top of it ne problema! I know how to build walls out of wood, stone, blocks, concrete and yes… mud mixed with salt. I can design a house and produce the drawings for each skill set. I am fit, physically and I know a very very… fit… tiler;)
…and we’re not booked all winter… yet.
We have no HP or credit card bills and come Sept…we’ll be Maya Maya. (100% in Arabic).
The 7.45 to Kings Cross has no chance.
I’m looking forward to coming home and doing building work in the UK working with ex Yugoslavian builders and my wife and spinning a lamb or two Croatian style…when we get the roof on…
…why not?
Oh yeah… and the jeep… it’s gone through major open heart surgery, took two weeks and cost £70 in labour. Whilst they had it’s heart out they fixed the four-wheel drive. I’ve got nothing to do here on Vis now so I’m flying home on Monday.
I’ll pick up the jeep and be home by Wednesday. On Friday we’ll pack up our sand boards that are bringing in a nice little income from renting and head out into the mother of all sand pits for a spot of sand boarding and the downing of a bottle of cheap vodka around the campfire.

Another night round the fire out in the desert.
See you all soon.