24/12/2022 (well nearly)
Hi y’all
    today when writing, the pre-festive snow is melting. A week ago four or five inches (100-125mm) came as a sharp surprise out of heavy cloud at 2 or 3° C. The cloud normally keeps the temperature up, so the snow tends to the fluffy harmless kind but then the temperature dropped to -15°c with a high pressure area so the snow froze harder and went slippery. Not as bad as the rain on frozen ground which produced the black ice a few (decades?) ago. This time we had nice clear skies with bright red sunsets though. 
    Thinking of the ‘Good King Wenceslas’ song I remember thinking it should have been and  rather than though the frost was cruel. If the moon is bright then you can be damn sure the frost will be cruel. 
    Several houses near us were not ready for that and their pipes froze. It’s been a while since the last significant bit of real winter weather which was the ‘beast from the East’. Over the last few years we’ve got used to warmer and wetter. In that time houses have been adjusted, pipework changed and heating systems modified. New residents could easily be surprised at how our altitude and relatively exposed profile is far more vulnerable than Edinburgh and places 800 feet lower. Some occupants have returned from short breaks to nasty surprises having reduced the use of expensive fuel while away. Central heating pipes need anti frost and anti corrosion fluid to bridge a few days without heating or power. I've not heard any complaints about this week’s warmer, wetter weather locally, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is being broadcast noticeably  less often. There’s some 
risk of snow on Christmas eve, but I've not heard much enthusiasm on the matter. 
Here's a link to my seasonal Christmas Card anyway.

    We usually find a few of the more recent arrivals leave in the spring after a sharp winter, it’s really not the same as 1000 feet lower and next to the coast. It is a popular saying that nobody lives in Tarbrax by accident, which is seen as a good thing.
It is still chilly, but only about 0° to +3 now (20/12/22) so some will be finding which pipes have burst. Most seem to have stayed in, generally advisable with a hard frost and dark nights, and they will know when the water stopped and will have prepared for the thaw. There was a couple of mains pipe bursts and some short power-cuts which didn’t help.
    I’ve been making up the Winter ’22 car club magazine and hope to get it out around Christmas. The Winter one is usually the hardest to compile because everybody comes in from the garage and settles in front of the telly. In Spring they’ve got cabin fever and start hitting things with spanners which gives me things to publish. Here to remind you is a small picture of a new Dutch member’s pride. Much tidier than mine.
    The coffee machine has been excellent at keeping me awake, but developed a fault for the second time where the water flow slowed to a trickle. I’d sent it away for servicing last time as it was under a 3 year warranty. It still is, but since the fault had come back I thought it would benefit from a bit of investigation by somebody who knew nothing about how they work. That might seem a bit perverse but since the fault had returned so quickly, about 4 months I think, I didn’t want to go without my coffee for a fortnight again. So I got the spanners out, had a look on the youtube instruction videos and risked it. Sure enough there was debris in the solenoid valve outlet. The odd thing was that it looked like standard lime-scale as you find in a kettle, but we live in a really soft water area and have used a kettle for 30 years without any build up at all. 
    I concluded that although it was sold 'refurbished as new’ it must have been in a hard water area beforehand and that the refurbishment was a bit superficial and that the service/repair that I sent it for was also a bit less than optimal. I’ve very rarely had anything serviced by professionals as well as I can do myself, carefully and slowly, assuming I have a modicum of understanding of its function and if the only person at risk is myself. I’d not take the battery out of the electric car, but I would give it a shot if it wasn’t so expensive, and wear rubber gloves of course. 
    Here’s the guts of the espresso machine before I took the boiler out. Fiddly but understandable, so I will refurbish the one I bought as ‘spares or repair’ later. It’s quite different inside but the principles are the same.
    Confidence and a complete lack of skill…I could have been Prime Minister except I’d have had trouble dealing with the bunch of opportunists in the cabinet. Come to think of it Oliver C managed, mainly by chucking them out.
    A quick picture of the local community project involving walks in the countryside. This was a week before the cold snap. Putting in direction marker posts and a few hundred bulbs (I hope the cold didn’t kill them) as well as filling in the really boggy bits. We’ve got about 10 decent sized walks set up now and the monoculture pine woods are gradually being replaced with deciduous native trees. That’ll take a few more decades though. Hermand Birchwood of which Fiona and I are convenors for the Scottish Wildlife Trust isn’t part of the community work but gradually the various tracks, walks and rides are joining up and the several wind farms recently added to that. Some of the 'rights of way', mainly footpaths are joining up with SWT paths, forestry tracks and ancient drove roads. The wind-farms usually provide rough but accessible tracks, similar to the forestry roads, for the vehicles, and with the ‘right to roam’,(if there’s access) we can wander about on it. Some of the bigger and often foreign owned estates don’t like that, but know that they are being watched so they don’t generally make much noise. It is rather annoying when strangers, more often English than any, wander in and mess with our culture, but I guess the British have been some of the worst examples of that. I think the Scottish grouse moors and hunting estates are likely to be closed if they misbehave, there’s quite a lot of muttering goes on when another raptor is found poisoned and the local gamekeepers are often involved, but I think it's the land-owners that are the instigators. The science like DNA analysis and GPS tracking is closing in and the population is at least beginning to value the wildlife, so hopefully the endangered parts of the environment will be preserved before they have gone, even if it is only because of tourism. 
    Walking on the local roads has always been a bit risky. I guess we aren't alone in that, but the recent developments combined with Covid reactions have opened a lot of opportunities for walking. I'm not really much of a walker, just lazy, but if you want a fence post put in or a bunch of bulbs planted I'll see what I can do.
     Our definitely-not-child-substitutes are managing the cold in their usual way of staying indoors, but occasionally wanting to be let out of the front door to check and then reject the environment. Custard can take several minutes, so I have to make sure I'm well insulated before opening a door for her. She likes to consider the options carefully and may take a while. Ten minutes later the rain, snow or wind might have cleared and the catflap is far too distant, so the insistent  mumbling starts again. Button, who generally goes out fairly quickly, seems to have developed an eye infection but it is clearing up by itself. Just as well as visiting the vet is not only still difficult, but still not appreciated by either of them.
    Generally life is returning to normal, most people have stopped worrying about covid, although the number of cases is still going up. about 25,000 in South lanarkshire. Up 10% on two weeks ago. I managed a session of can rattling for the Scottish Wildlife Trust in a local supermarket. It brought in some useful money but it takes quite a bit of organising and many, I'd say 15%, of customers don't carry cash any more. I generally don't myself. We hope to get some kind of wireless card scanner soon, but it'll bring problems not least of which is how do you determine the amount. I guess a tablet type as waiters now carry, and a selection of buttons. 10p, £1, £5, empty my account, that kind of thing.
​   A bit of exercising and some massage has brought my shoulder back to more or less normal function, although like most I left it much later than I should have done. It's a basic fear of pain of course, not that it's ever as bad as expected, but also the basic feeling that this should be NHS as I've paid my National Insurance. Scotland is better than most places for the NHS services but Westminster continues to drain our tanks. Still £150 or thereabouts solved the problem which was the more important bit.
    The EV continues to function well, although it hasn't the biggest battery. The result of being an early adopter, but it's no great problem, I'd have to work for several hours more to pay for a tank of petrol than the equivalent electricity, so I don't mind, especially as the solar panels do most of the work and in practice it just takes a minute to fill up (on off peak of course) and the longer range exceptions really don't affect the average mile / recharge time or cost.
    Since mum passed and with covid still being relevant we've not done much long distance driving, but as the EV is now 3 years old I'd quite like to move to a new model. There have been quite a few developments, not least of which is a larger number of saloon or estate types that can tow reasonable loads. I thought an MG4 might suit, I'll have a better idea of costs and advantages in Spring. 
    Well it looks as though I'll have to stop there. I've been somewhat delayed by the dishwasher throwing its towel in. This is the third indesit to fail so I'm ordering a more expensive, and hopefully more reliable, Bosch. The Bosch washing machine hasn't given any problems, despite an endless stream of calls from Birmingham (apparently a province of Asia) wanting to extend my warranty with a service contract. I have at least developed a polite NO which usually works and I don't worry any more about being a little more blunt to the persistent ones. Yes I know I should just put the phone down, but the poor beggar on the other end isn't the villain, I just wish I could reach his boss.
    So have a good Christmas and a happier new year.
love to all
 Jim and Fiona
Gaggia Classic Espresso machine before evisceration
A Sad extra note for those who remember Low Hill Farm. Lucy Davis, widow of Ron Davis who was tractor driver and dairyman for dad, passed away quite recently in Petersfield Community Hospital after a short illness. She had been living in Wickham in reasonable to good health but recently lost her son Michael, who was younger than me and therefore much too young. I believe she was about 90 but I don't think she took much notice of that.