Gossip from land of net curtains

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 February, 1997, 12:00am

Having a New Year's Day every month is so useful. It really puts those resolutions in perspective. And if you don't get them right the first time, you get a second chance.

My number one favourite resolution over the past 17 years has been giving up smoking (I started young).

This January I almost did it; now I just have to stop that little social smoking habit that is so annoying to packet-carrying friends.

Of course, both of 1997's New Years have included a few serious resolutions, which include things like not compromising journalistic principles, and making my small contribution to help get a Tibetan musician out of his 18-year sentence in a Lhasa jail.

The main way of doing this is by mentioning Ngawang Choephel whenever I can justify it.

This includes when I am invited to write a column because a colleague is away on holiday.

There are also the resolutions that have been on my wish list since I first heard of self-improvement - skills like wolf-whistling, pottery or re-learning the saxophone.

I tried the latter when I was living in Stockholm in 1990. The only thing I learned from those Around Midnight sessions were some creative Swedish swear words from my neighbours.

But my main pledge for the Year of the Ox is not to buy another apartment.

It all seemed like a good idea at the time, which was last September when house prices in London were going up. A small pad where I could retreat to if it proved impossible to keep both job and New Year's Resolution Number Two (the one about principles) seemed a good investment. And buying a flat unseen was amusing, a whimsical Hong Kong thing to do.

I had two efficient agents: my parents, who having heard me muttering about how cheap Brixton is, decided to step in quickly and get that deposit placed in a neighbourhood without a recent riot record.

I found myself a high-spending London lawyer (why waste GBP1 on airmail stamps when you can pay GBP20 on a courier service that delivers within the week?) and we started placing our bids.

The owner of the first flat we chose (I say we, but my input involved my mother sending me two-metre long faxes full of scribbled room measurements, and me saying appreciatively how nice the measurements sounded) agreed on the offer and then refused to answer her phone.

Three weeks later she admitted she had decided not to sell, but had not wanted to disappoint us by letting us know.

In the interim, house prices sneaked up by two per cent.

Then there was the leaking ground floor flat incident, after which I spent two happy weeks boring friends with the pros and cons of a one-bedroom Edwardian cupboard with patio and cat door but low rental potential, over a two-bedroom place which needed renovation, had zero barbecue potential but could get higher rent.

I went for option number one, only to realise that my sense of choice was a foolish illusion. In anticipation of my making the sensible decision, the offer had been made on number two.

The owner of this flat was very, very eccentric, my lawyer whispered to me on the phone late one afternoon, as he recovered from a pre-Christmas hangover.

She was apparently nice; she just hated the bother of doing paperwork. Hated is an understatement: she needed to be dragged screaming.

From shaking hands to exchanging signatures took two long months of paperwork-avoiding. Even before anything had been signed, my bath moved in. Followed by the wardrobes and plumber. Eventually all relevant lawyers (and there were quite a few by the end) were in one place at one time, and that contract-signing happened.

The owner vacated a couple of weeks ago, and my father went up to help her move, fearing that otherwise we would have a long-term squatting situation.

This worried the neighbours hugely, they gossipped later. 'But my husband is 70,' my mother pointed out, when she understood what they were talking about.

'Exactly,' they said with satisfaction. 'Ms X is said to be a genius at stirring passions that have been dormant for decades.' No one was sure who was slandering whom. But it was a sobering reminder of how tough it will be to move out of the anonymity of Hong Kong high-rise living to the land of net curtains. Kevin Kwong is on holiday