LIFE ABROAD – Part 25 :Penny Pinchers
Posted on April 26th, 2013

Dr. Tilak Fernando

Two of the most hilarious experiences within a month of my arrival in London had slipped away from my memory, and thought of refreshing it in part 25. Shah was an Indian teacher who had come on a work permit to Britain and settled down with his family (two young children) in his mortgaged house. In his three bed room house he decided to rent two rooms on the first floor to students to recover his mortgage payments and all four of them cramped into the double bed room downstairs.

Shah never believed in heating the house properly and always wore two-three layers of thick woolen jumpers to keep him warm, as the house was like a refrigerator with cold drafts seeping through old window frames and under the doors. He appeared quite a refined type but when it came to business he was a shrewd miser and gave explicit instructions on dos and don’ts in a strong “ƒ”¹…”Indian-English’ accent. In the mornings all four of them went out of the house but it did not matter to us, the tenants, who were also out attending classes. The problem was during the weekends when they were at home when we had to shiver in the cold!

Living inside a “ƒ”¹…”fridge’

A circular kerosene heater was the only appliance we were given to heat up our rooms. If not for the fact that it was unhealthy to consume kerosene fumes we would have let it generate heat throughout the night as well. Intense cold inside the room made us wear thick woolen socks, wrap up with two cardigans and coil under thick blankets which we had to buy ourselves!

Sounding of the alarm clock in the mornings was akin to a death toll, yet we reluctantly had to come out of the coziness that prevailed during the night between the bed sheets and the blankets. Immediately after stepping out of the bed on to the linoleum covered floor was like walking on a “ƒ”¹…”block of Ice’. Naturally, we needed to light up the kerosene heater immediately to stop us suffering from hypothermia. Next task was to run downstairs, fill the kettle with water, come running upstairs again to leave the kettle on top of the kerosene heater to make our morning cup of tea or coffee. Once the kettle boiled, a saucepan containing two eggs and two carrots (Breakfast) replaced the kettle on the heater which acted as an emergency cooker! Washing had to be done downstairs with the help of warm water from the kettle while the eggs boiled in the saucepan. Six people having to share a single bathroom in a household during early morning rush was no joke, but what could not be achieved had to be endured.

“ƒ”¹…”Get out of this room’

The most hilarious incident took place when a couple (my relatives) visited London for a weekend break from the Leeds University and I sought landlords’ permission to put them up in my room only for two nights. Shah was kind in that respect and did not even charge anything extra for it, which I thought was very decent of him.

In the night I offered the guests my bed but the couple was determined to sleep rough on a mattress. Being an extremely cold night I took the chance to plug in an electric fan heater, which tenants normally used discreetly, only in an emergency situation.

Everyone was still fast sleep on the early hours of Saturday morning when Shah had decided to peep into his electricity meter which shocked him to see it turning at rocket speed! He came upstairs like lightning, frothing mad, forced open my room door, walked right into the middle of the room and started to yell: “You are using electric heaters here”¦”¦ I have asked you not to use these in my house”!

Half asleep I raised my head out of the blanket to find out what the commotion was about and could not believe my eyes when Shah standing in the middle of the room screeching while my guest, being completely an outsider, seated on the mattress, pointing the index finger at Shah and ordering him to leave the room: “Mr. Shah, would you mind leaving this room immediately, can’t you see my wife is sleeping here?” His voice sounded somewhat harsh!

Like a beaten dog with the tail behind its posterior, Shah left the room in the blink of an eye with an apology. It was an awkward situation for me as a tenant when my guest chased the landlord out of the room, being under his own roof! Things took place in a jiffy that there was hardly any time to think about anything.

Needless to say, it was indeed an embarrassing incident, and I could not face Shah that morning until he left home.

During the day I contacted another friend (by this time we had gradually increased our circle of friends) and arranged to move out to a Jewish landlady (Mrs. Hooty) at Swiss Cottage on recommendation!

In the evening Shah behaved like a kid and did not make any fuss over what happened in the morning. I approached him nervously and handed over my notice to quit. Surprised Shah tried to convince me to stay back saying, let’s forget what happened in the morning”¦ your visitors can stay as long as they like”’. I thanked him and politely told him that I found a room elsewhere and my friends were going back to Leeds in the afternoon, and kept to my word and bid adios to Shah in the following morning.

Mrs. Hooty was an old lady living on her own. She had enough means to live without having to rent out rooms, but perhaps she would have thought some extra few Pounds in her bank account would not go waste! Similar to Mrs. Thompson’s house (a former English Landlady) it was clean and neatly kept with heating facilities as opposed to Shah’s environment.

Her hobby was baking cakes and biscuits all the time and offered to tenants as well. British are very proud of their gardens and particular about maintaining neatly kept lawns. Considering her age and fragility I volunteered to mow Hooty’s lawn periodically which made her appreciate my generous offer and became her blue eyed boy.

Penny pinching

When it comes to penny-pinching, it made no difference whatsoever whether it was an Indian or a Jewish Landlord. Here was a case in point where Shah and Hooty stood on the same level of thinking with shared frugal minds.

Naturally, one needs to iron one’s clothes after washing them before wearing again. In Mrs. Hootie’s book one should iron one item at a time – to save on electricity! It may sound weird but appeared as a common attribute among landlords and landladies to keep a vigilant eye on the behaviour of their electricity meters all the time, kind of a hobby!

It was on a Sunday afternoon when I decided to iron all the washed clothes in readiness for the week ahead. Suddenly a commotion occurred inside the house to find the good old lady had gone bananas having noticed the electricity meter rotating fast. She came bursting upstairs and knocked on the girls’ room, opposite to mine, and demanded to know whether they were ironing or a fan heater working, but she never bothered to knock on my door to investigate, may be fully realising that I had to be the culprit who was up to “ƒ”¹…”mischief’! When she went downstairs the girls knocked onto my door to warn me: “Hey, are you using any electrical equipment? Hooty has gone off her rocker”!

In double quick time I shoved a basket full washed clothes inside the wardrobe and continued ironing a single shirt in case Hooty confronted me, but never she came to knock on my door (Bless her!).

A little bit of gardening seemed to have gone a long way. That was the difference between an Indian landlord and a Jewish landlady!

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One Response to “LIFE ABROAD – Part 25 :Penny Pinchers”

  1. Nimal Says:

    I remember those days as well in 1966 and afterwards.

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