(Dear readers: last week’s column began this saga. You may wish to review it before reading this second part.)
Every day meant another bureaucratic battle or three. The insurance people were extremely resistant to even coming out to see the flooded cottage. It took two months to receive the industrial strength fans I should have had within 48 hours, to dry out the cottage. The horrible part of months of stalling? Black mold stealthily crept up the walls of the library and insinuated itself into every cupboard in the kitchen, expanding an inch a day. By the time the fans were finally operating, mold had blanketed almost every damp, vertical surface in the cottage. So now the insurance company would face a much bigger repair bill. (I’d get that money from them eventually. It was fairly owed, and I am, by nature, a bulldog.)
My lawyer read them their own contract, which stated that fans had to be provided in a timely manner for flooding disasters ---or else they would be sued for massive damages.
They’d lose, and they knew it. (I’m not the sort to sue, but their haughty refusal to respond for so long brought out the fire in me. I’ve rarely been so shocked and angry!)
The fans were delivered without notice one evening while I slept. I didn’t realize their van had crept up the long driveway until morning. What petty defiance! It took me an exhausting half day to get the huge machines inside the cottage using two long, heavy planks dragged from David’s workshop so I could inch them up the path, then up the three steps to the main entrance and finally into the sunroom. Only two outlets worked in there- sometimes. But at least I had something, now, to shift the wet air outside and could return the small fans I’d borrowed from Gaynor.
The huge ones ran day and night for over two weeks, but it was too late. Most of the walls were gone: the mold had won.
It was so unnecessary. The insurance adjusters had simply needed to inspect first thing, install the fans immediately and begin funding the restoration as it progressed. We’d paid big premiums for 30 years and had never once made a claim. But.
I was not British.
I was not David or my late mother.
If one is not British, one has no credibility in Britain.
Zip. Zero. Nada.
The rats were being addressed, though.
Dilbert loved his work, and, eyes shining, he tackled this formidable job with enthusiasm. It was a true rescue. I was exhausted, and, after despairing that I’d ever get the insurance company- and implacable English utility firms- to help me, I longed for a champion. Dilbert was a modern knight.
But now, having laid the traps, he sighed.
“This poison works wonders- slowly. I highly recommend that you find lodgings in a hotel in Ross-on-Wye for a wee while- four or five days. I need time to do what must be done. It’s not safe to sleep here just now. You are overrun.
I refused! No rodents would evict me! Besides, every night spent in a hotel meant I’d have to part with more of the money my lawyer retrieved when he closed David’s bank account. (David would never again be independent, but would need full-time care.)
The next morning my friend Aaron (who’d found David collapsed on the bedroom floor in December 2008 and summoned help, thus saving his life) offered his services again. I’d decided to clean out the big, water-soaked attic, a herculean task.
Aaron opened the ceiling’s trap door, lowered the heavy ladder, and ascended. I began to follow, but suddenly he stiffened, backed hastily down the ladder and feverishly re-secured the door, but not before I’d peered up to see a dozen large, red-eyed rats positioned in a ragged circle around the open hatch, glaring down at him. They. Were. Furious.
Aaron is a farm lad, rarely ruffled by anything, but now he turned to me, white-faced and horrified. “Leave tonight, Dee. Those rats have established their base. They consider us invaders and will not hesitate to protect their nests from attack. Dilbert is so right! Listen to him!”
Still mutinous, I went into the back bedroom to make the bed- and froze. Its walls were alive with gnawing noises radiating from multiple new places. Muffled squeaks filled the air as the rats urged each other on. I realized it would be stupid, and yes, dangerous, to stay here.
There are times to hold the line, and times to fold up one’s tent and temporarily retreat…
I gathered up my few clothes to wash in town, and motored to Ross-on-Wye and its centuries old Royal Hotel. I was offered a tiny, snug room- more like a closet, really- for a mere token fee (twenty pounds), because sympathetic management knew my story. (I would sometimes eat a simple meal there and chat with the staff when I came into town to visit David and shop for essential supplies.)
That first wonderful night is enshrined in my memory. I showered for ages, savoring the hot water, and then crawled between the crisp white sheets and thick blankets and welcomed the best rest I’d had in weeks. A hot English breakfast in the hotel’s lovely dining room, under its 15-foot high ceilings, was truly memorable. And to think I had at least three more days to anticipate!
Fortified, I motored the six miles back to Bryn Garth cottage to carry on. Wearing masks, the workmen and I ripped down ceilings, steamed off rotting wallpaper and applied full-strength bleach to salvage walls not terminally moldy. The rest were torn down, exposing centuries-old vertical beams.
A few pictures:
Rat droppings showered down, blanketing the floors. I kept busy loading the mess into huge buckets to empty into the forest.
Starting on the third day after my move to the Royal Hotel, bodies began turning up among the scattered tools and bags of lime and plaster. We found dozens of corpses under freshly cut replacement timber. These were tossed into heavy black plastic construction bags, which were then tied off, hauled outside and heaved into one of the huge dumpsters. It was hard, satisfying work. (A big moving van had packed and removed dishes, upholstered chairs and sofas (which went to people who knew how to dry and restore them), the dining room table, boxes of salvaged books, framed pictures and assorted bric-a-brac, giving us space to work.
The roof crew sealed the holes at the roofline, redid the foundation, and tore out all the cupboards. New ones were ordered. Joe sent funds via Chase Bank in Traverse City, directly to my lawyer, who deposited the money in his account, which kept me going. I was not allowed to open a bank account. So this was my way around that obstacle.
Chase Bank management in Traverse City, by the way, was wonderful. Knowing my situation they maneuvered through innumerable international regulations so that I could survive, and eventually pay the builder in full. (I reimbursed the bank as soon as the insurance came through at the end.)
Finally, in March of 2010, I saw light at the end of this dismal tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train.
I remember when that realization truly hit; leaving the workmen, I ran to the bathroom for a good private cry, overwhelmed with relief and hope, not just helpless rage at the bureaucratic Machine. The rats were bad enough, but to have to constantly fight bureaucratic indifference and plaster-flat immobility from almost every business firm, was so much worse. It took months to shift those monsters even an inch closer to reason. Some government-controlled entities, like the gas firm, were hopeless.
That word- ‘firm’ -had taken on an entirely new meaning.
For Example: I was being billed every month for consuming lots of Gas, stored outside in a huge sausage-shaped tank. It was mysteriously diminishing at a steady rate, (so they said) even though I hadn’t been connected for months. No cooker. No heat. Never mind: the delivery man came as scheduled; looked, ‘filled it,’ checked a form, left. No amount of reasoning with him made a whit of difference. Bill after bill was sent to me.
I repeatedly rang Calor to ask them to inspect the big tank, explaining over and over why it didn’t need refilling. There might, in fact, be a leak.
To send out an inspector would take a week or two and be quite costly, the lady declared.
Fine, said I. Just come, to make sure.
They came two weeks later. Looked. Left.
NOTHING had changed. Oh, wait: I was poorer. That had changed. I objected, via cell phone. Here is a typical exchange.
Me: “How can I owe this huge sum when I haven’t used any gas? Maybe your serviceman is diddling the amount he says he’s topping up...”
Spokesperson: “Are you Mr. Firks? (David was hospitalized and unable to speak.) No?
Are you Mrs. Firks? No? We are sorry, but, as you are not either, we cannot assist you. Please address the remuneration, or penalties will continue to accrue, and service will, of necessity, be terminated. Good day.”
What service? I had nothing. Nobody was listening.
Still, every month the bills, for bottled gas and other services (internet, TV, electrics) continued to pile up. I explained to the electric company that all wires been chewed gone since December of 2008. I had only a torch (flashlight).
Bills came anyway, now lined with red-lettered threats: they would soon cut me off.
My lawyer shook his head. He’d tried to reason with them... but the bills kept coming.
You get the idea. Implacable British bureaucracy made my life almost impossible. Even my lawyer had to admit defeat.
“You’ll have to pay them, I regret to say, unless you stay on to sue all the utilities and the insurance people. I guarantee you’d win, but the legal posturing would take years, and you’d need to live here to address it.”
Impossible. I had a life in America. I suppose the businesses knew that...
Anyway, after staying 5 days at the hotel, Dilbert approved my return to the cottage. All the walls were perfectly quiet. Subsequent daily visits by the triumphant rat man confirmed that Bryn Garth was rat-free.
I returned to carry on working in December of 2009 and left in late May of 2010.
In that final week before the massive restoration was completed an amazed electrical crewman yelled and sat back on his haunches: he’d been securing a cover over a newly wired electrical wall socket, when enormous blowflies began emerging from these wire-crammed holes. Ugh!
Aaron solved the mystery.
Some rats had inevitably died inside the walls; blowflies had laid eggs on their corpses. Huge mature blowflies had eventually hatched, and seeing the sunlight through the outlet hole, they’d emerged.
Dilbert confirmed Aaron’s theory. On the bright side, as he’d promised, there was almost no odor. What little there was would resolve within days. The fat, languid flies exited through opened windows and doors.
The cottage was lovely once again, with the perfumed scents of an English country spring to freshen the scrubbed rooms. The professional cleaning crew left dandelions in a fruit jar to brighten the dining table. The sight brought me to tears.
After many months away, everything was delivered back home, fully restored. My sister Kath, and my cousin Nancy, who’d flown to England to help, moved the furniture, wall hangings, bedding, dishes, etc. into their proper places. It took two days, and was so satisfying!
I will never forget that monumental battle to save my home, and will always be deeply grateful to:
- The contractor who’d rebuilt Bryn Garth because he couldn’t walk away from such carnage, though he was sure he’d never be paid. I was not British, and that much money would be impossible to move to England after 9/11. Plus, the insurance company was continuing to resist, hoping I’d give up. Fat chance. They finally did pay, sheepishly, after I quietly told the agent who came a year later that I would visit the London Times and tell all... I would have, too. That wonderful contractor was reimbursed In Full, to his great amazement. (Read previous column.)
- Dilbert, with his knowledge and skill in dispatching a most determined, fearsome enemy
- Chase Bank’s unstinting efforts to supply me with funds
- My immediate family’s invaluable help and support
- My English friends Gaynor and Aaron, and my wise lawyer, the late Christopher P.
The State, and its Titanic Bureaucracy, I left to the English. The best of British luck to them.
Though I’d finally returned to America, I prepaid Dilbert to visit Bryn Garth once monthly for the next six months to insure that all was well.
It was eventually sold to a couple in 2013. Bryn Garth cottage and the ancient forest behind it are once again cherished.