and a happy Christmas to one (you know who you are) and all. It’s been a busy year, though that’s not exactly unusual, involving the poly-tunnel enterprise, and various building projects. I’ve managed a fair bit of tinkering, (mainly banging bits of metal in the garage), and battering bits of wood in the shed. Occasionally I use those activities to extend or increase the sheds, so that I can do more. Fiona has spent quite a bit of time pottering in the garden and of course the poly-tunnel. Shifting large heaps of manure, compost and the like, while bringing home baskets of edibles including sweetcorn, beans and various leafy things. I have been told what they are, but it tends to go in one ear.....maybe I’ve been doing something wrong there. My part has been putting in a sprinkling system. It seems to be working, though I'll be keeping an eye on it when the temperature drops. I’ve put a bit of work into putting Mum’s book “Stories from the top of the wardrobe” into web-pages, for the delight and edification of all, you’ll find the home page at http://wardrobestories.homestead.com/ There are various formats including speech, music, text etc so you’ll just have to go and have a look rather than my trying to describe it. I’m hoping to add more of John’s pictures, there are more stories in the pipeline and I believe a Christmas Special of a new story may be on the cards. Eventually we hope we can make up some kind of e-book, though I might need a bit of help there. There was a CD (remember those?) of some of the spoken stories, and some are reproduced on the website.
On the holiday front we (and a few others) hired the MS Balmoral and took ourselves and Mum to the Baltic for a shufti. Nipped through the Kiel canal, popped into Tallinn and St Petersburg, and took a look at Helsinki and Copenhagen before returning to Southampton. A very enjoyable trip over a couple of weeks, resulting in considerable increases in weight on account of the excellent food. It was probably just as well we didn’t extend the ‘eat until you explode’ facility with the ‘drink yourself stupid’ option. At £10 per head per day it seemed quite reasonable but perhaps not advisable. There were exercise options, like running around the ship, four circuits to the mile, and a gym and pools, The idea being that it would work off some of the calories. Actually I think we'd have had difficulty burning off anything like that volume, even if we'd been propelling the ship with oars.
Thinking about that, even if the majority of the passengers were getting on a bit, if you'd converted the surplus food energy into forward motion, I think we'd have been able to offer the crew the chance to water-ski.
So actually we were mostly walking around doing the tourist thing and gawping at palaces, gradually getting heavier and heavier. I found the medieval bits in Tallinn to be the most interesting as they are all different, whereas there is a certain conformity to Russian palaces, no matter how much gilt is added. It must be admitted though, the Hermitage is well worth putting on your bucket list. You should take a week or so to do it justice. There is more on that on the newsletter from September. The paint job we had done at least ten years ago was never very good, and the company that did it disappeared before the paint was dry. They reappeared, in identical form except for a slightly different name, a few months later and are probably still using the same ‘two lads in a van’ whose incompetence was only exceeded by their inexperience. One of their sales lizards turned up out of the blue a few weeks ago, he’d probably spotted the paint coming away from the wall, and tried to sell me a roof-painting job that would ‘stop the moss and seal the roof.’ Aye, that’ll be right.
Roof painting is not a good idea, especially if it changes the colour of the roof. it tends to make leaks worse and always looks patchy later.
However, it did get me thinking. I'd like to re-do the ‘harling’ on the Old Manse, but with a cladding of insulating material between the current external surface and a new screed and topped with small granite chips. Apart from the insulation, it’ll improve the rather scruffy appearance, and remove any need to keep painting the outside.
The cladding / insulating company seems to be better authenticated, partly because they are working through a government based subsidy. We intend to get the rental house clad as well, that one will also be getting uprated loft insulation and a wood pellet burning stove, there are a couple of incentives being offered to encourage greater efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. With a bit of luck the boiler should be paid for by the Renewable Heat Incentive, and the tenant will also get smaller heating bills. Apparently if the overall carbon emissions of the country are not reduced by a certain percentage we, GB, incur a fine by the EEC, so if you want to upgrade your insulation or whatever, now’s the time to look around for government 'incentives', It's still your taxes being spent, so you might as well get some back. Other advances in home tech, well I have replaced all the lighting with LEDs. The Compact Fluorescent type were working well enough, but these things use even less power, commonly 5 or 7 watts, being equivalent to 50 and 70 watts respectively in conventional incandescent bulbs. They are about twice as efficient as the CF ones, and have no warm-up time. The living room is brighter than before and now uses 24 watts, less than one 30 watt halogen bulb. I'll pass on the details of cost and suppliers if you ask. Most of mine came from ebay. None of them look like this one.
I’d really like to try a 12 volt house lighting circuit, using LEDs from the caravan and boat market but I’ll leave that until I have found how to charge a battery with the solar panels. Apart from the kitchen and the heating, quite a lot of modern equipment can run on 12 volts DC including radios, TVs laptops and lights. It might seem a bit off-grid or hippy, but when you consider that the starter motor on your car manages on 12 volts, 240 volts begins to seem a bit unnecessarily dangerous. A few solar panels on your roof would be able to put enough charge in a battery to run all but the heaviest equipment, and if solar water heaters could do your hot water, you'd only need a methane generator to provide a bit of cooking gas.
I know that all sounds a bit excessive, but I'll just point out that the purpose of those who profit by big business, like power companies, is to make a profit out of you, sell you what you don't need, and trap you into buying more. They aren't going to let you go without a fight, and part of that is making it look as though it's too difficult, weird, expensive etc. So don't believe the hype. Some is real, some isn't. Watching the money sometimes gives a clue. There really should to be a way of seeing who is bribing (lobbying) the government that we are supposed to have elected.
Getting back to the matter of more life-control; in the pursuit of an enjoyable life, I don't think 50 years of 9 to 5 helps much, so my answer is to owe less and retire early, or do something you enjoy for a bit less. For the price of the solar panels and the ground source heat pump I could have bought a flash new car, but I'd have had to drive to work in it, and it certainly wouldn't go up in value by 7% each year.
I'd like to fit a few more panels, especially if the money in the bank's not doing anything, and while the feed-in tariff payment being offered for new systems of PV solar panels is much reduced, so is the price of new panels. They still pay for themselves in 7 to 10 years, which leaves 10 to 13 years of free money, so I’m thinking of putting a few on the garage. Sadly the electric cars haven’t come down in price as much as I’d hoped, so that’s on hold for now, especially as our mileage is much reduced. I’d really like 2p per mile though, especially if I could store my solar power in the car and get 12p back for every mile I don’t drive. I’ve always disliked waste, and this all started with the banks being so greedy. I thought I could improve on their offer, especially when the RBS offered me an account where they gave no interest and would charge 5 or 10 pounds a month for the privilege. I think the must come out of the same stable as the majority of politicians, and have the same mind-set, expecting high pay, vast manipulable expense allowances and no heavy lifting. I can think of a few religions on the same gravy train. They use the same argument, but few facts and no proof of value.
And you thought vampires were mythical.
Seriously though, before I get off this horse, as your money evaporates through inflation, what is it doing for you? I’m not suggesting you go playing the stocks and shares market, that isn’t much more profitable for the punter and has a high risk. Which is why the really cheeky bankers go to play there (with other people's money). I’d call it work since they do have regular, if short, hours, but they don’t actually produce anything. Perhaps that’s why they are called wizz-kids, they are just pi**ing on your head and charging you for shampoo. I could understand if they were paid by results, but the blighters charge even when they lose your money to a smarter con artist. No, I recommend putting your money to work. With a 7 to 10% return, renewable energy is quite good, and for us the rental property has done well so far. The house is going to be worth one house for the foreseeable future and relatively inflation proof. Both actually produce something, I've learned not take any notice of the people who say the value of property is going up, the price goes up too, so it'll never be worth more than a house. A new car, however, is really just a bigger liability. If it’s more reliable, or safer, then fair enough, but as with most big purchases; would you buy it if nobody else could see it? If not, then it’s just vanity, and borrowing to pay for it is worse.
Looking out of the window, Autumn seems to be turning into Winter. Not altogether surprising for the time of year I suppose, although later than usual. We've been told by the climatologists that global warming would bring warmer, wetter winters and although those in denial disagree on the cause, even they must have heard the expression 'Most Extreme On Record' applied to pretty well everything from average temperature to rainfall. Still, as they say, there's none so deaf as those with their heads in the sand. And that's the polite version. I does look as though 2014 is going to be the warmest so far.
As I write the thermometer drops below 0 Centigrade (or is that Celsius?) and the car is getting a sparkly look and there was smow falling a few miles away on Friday. I just heard another prediction of a 'Long hard Winter'. Well maybe, but I think I'd rather trust a meteorologist than a DJ, and they never predict the weather (as opposed to the climate) beyond a week or so.
When I started this, it was supposed to be a Christmas card but it seems to have turned into a newsletter so I'm going to have to write another card later. Still it does give me the opportunity of looking back over the year, which will at least give me some ideas of what to put in the Christmas card. There have been a few other important bits in 2014, the loss of a few friends and the gaining of others, progress in the Midge field, and the possibility of getting a small grey Massey-Ferguson tractor, which I hope to collect before the New Year. It's a bit big for a Christmas present, but if I give half of it to Fiona for the gardening, and she gives me the other half for tinkering with, then I think it could be squeezed into the budget.
In between I've also been working on the problem of getting next-generation broadband into the village, we are outside the 95% promised, but then I think almost everybody outside a major town or city will be, unless you are lucky enough to be inside commuting distance of Westminster.
Now the cold weather has started there is always the fire to be made, ash to be removed and logs to be split. It's quite unnecessary, as the central heating does the job perfectly well, but both Fiona and the cat love a fire, though Errol was a bit worried the first time, now he comes and looks for me if he thinks it's getting late. I find it useful for fire gazing of course, though it often reminds me to refill the wood store, but it can't be beaten for blue sky research. (Sitting, staring and daydreaming) Very Zen.
Other highlights include cleaning the cat flap. (How does an animal that is cleaning itself half the time and spends the rest sleeping get so dirty?) and doing a few good deeds around the village, making some doors for our tenant, changing over to LED lighting, putting a new lid on the wood store and making a new parking place for visitors.
A fairly major project has been learning how to use this iPad, seen to the right, which has a speech to text transcription facility, It certainly works but it's got some very funny idea about punctuation, mind you, the spelling and punctuation I've seen on the internet leaves a bit to be desired. This particular bit is being dictated, but I'm not sure that typing isn't actually slightly more efficient. Even with my two finger technique. Actually one is usually enough, since my brain doesn't produce words very quickly. I've always been a bit suspicious of the 'stream of consciousness' thing. Probably carefully edited and polished to look like spontaneity. I can't do it that fast unless it's a rant, and I'd not publish that unless I'd done a bit of fact and spell checking first.
Well that's quite enough blethering, I'd better go and light a fire, otherwise the cat (Errol) will start yelling at me. Very verbal that cat, and like most, has no concept of any time except Now. Apart from anything else I still have a Christmas e-card to prepare, just like the Queen's speech, but fortunately I don't have a bunch of politicians writing it for me. She has my sympathy.
Now if I can remember to get this proof read before publishing it........