Thursday, November 1, 2018


I was at the opticians earlier this week, and overheard a conversation between an 82 year old man and a young male assistant.

I worked out that he was 82 as he was asked his date of birth. I also know the first line of his address and his phone number. I'm sure that, in this day and age, there are data protection issues in such matters being discussed in such an open environment. But, that was not what concerned me.

YMA: So Mr L[rest of name redacted], do you not even wear glasses for driving?

82YO: No, no point, don't get on with glasses.

YMA: You do realise that you cannot meet the minimum vision standard for driving without glasses? I'll need you to sign this form to say that you have been advised of this, and have declined. It's just for our records, we don't do anything with it.

82YO: It's my choice. [signed form].

Now, if a doctor advises you not to drive, and believes you still are, and are a potential danger to others, they have a duty to notify DVLA, so why don't opticians, in these circumstances?


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Samhain

I have a full complement this year (although my desiccated spider has vanished from where I left it, I still have a frog, a mouse and a late season Amazonka, growing on the balcony), and I made 8kWh of power today (although I think it hasn't been wired in correctly as there are some odd things happening according to our portal).

So, watch out if you have annoyed me recently (although, please be reassured that no-one reading here need be worried).

The words 'customer disservice in supermarkets' spring to mind... I've thought up a new slogan... "X supermarket, where customers are always wrong." And 'Evil Relatives' (not ours) with pound signs for eyes. What is the matter with people these days?


Monday, October 29, 2018

The light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train

We were given our first FOTCR™ card on Saturday. "We're away from the middle of December, and we need to get ahead of ourselves," we were told. FFS. I think I might put 2019s in the envelope with 2018s to them.

As we expected (but they clearly didn't), the installers didn't get finished on Friday. We know this house, after nearly 24 years here, and it is very very quirky. And very very well built, extended, and extended again. The five sets of panels are all up (yes, it's very multi-directional), but there is a lot of tidying and cleaning needing doing, and there are still all the electrical connections to do. And, they don't know it yet, but they have messed up the electrics on another system that they will be putting right.

Given that they come from nearly 350 miles away, we thought they'd stay on and finish it off on Saturday. But, oh no, one of them had to get home to play rugby on Saturday (yes, really!!!), so they're coming back today. Apparently, although they are now already 10 minutes later than even their worst-case arrival time... and the scaffolders are coming this afternoon to dismantle, and, now being back on GMT, it will be dark soon.

To be honest, I am more than a little bit fed up. Although they've only been here 2 days, getting everything ready, and scaffolding last Tuesday means that we've endured 10 days of chaos already.

Had they finished on Friday, as they were supposed to, we'd have had everything back where it went by now, and Mr BW could have had a restful birthday today. And there is a lot of stuff to go back in the cupboards, wardrobes, and dormer voids, even after I have decluttered 2 large wheelie bin's worth already. How is it that my professional association says I have to keep closed files until those they concern reach 35, but information in medical files can be shredded willy nilly?


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...

Full Hunter's Moon setting at 7am this morning:

It was the coldest night of the autumn so far - down to about 5°C. And Orion (my favourite constellation) was beautiful at 4am.

I love it when a plan comes together. Some people plant at full moon, we install at full moon.

Coincidentally, today DG's busy writing about catastrophes that might beset the country, and we're busy future proofing ourselves against all eventualities (high impact / medium likelihood, and high impact / high risk).

7.5kWh of panels and 6.5kWh of battery. Together with a way of running the whole lot at normal power when the Ruskies turn off the power switch. Just how much would people pay us to charge their phones/cars/drones/dialysis machines/etc etc, I wonder? *rubs hands in gleeful anticipation*

Now I shall be able to play with the glass kiln to my little Witchy heart's content, for free, and perhaps get a pottery kiln too.

We seriously looked at putting in a system in 2006, when we had the extension done (how can that be over 12 years ago?), but, we felt, the technology then wasn't up to our needs, and the cost was crazy, so we ended up with solar thermal (for water heating) that Mr BW sourced and installed with a bit of help from the plumber we had onsite anyway.

Now, the technology to output energy to price ratios on PV are somewhere between 8 and 10 times better. And we will still get a little bit of feed-in payment for 20 years (but that is disappearing at the end of March 2019).

Given that our electricity has already gone up 17.6% this year (despite changing to the cheapest supplier twice), we're predicted a 9%+ ROI per year. Better than the pathetic (less than inflation) 2% the banks are offering currently. But, it's really more about feeling better about living more lightly, and keeping the lights on and the freezer (full of garden produce) working when the world falls apart.

I have never seen so many large boxes arrive here in one day before. The delivery lorry that dropped off the box of 25 panels put it right in the middle of the drive, so the installers can't leave tonight until they've fitted them. And I shall have to put safety lights on the three huge boxes currently filling the hall, because otherwise I will fall into them if I get up in the night. That's tomorrow's fun. And maybe Saturday's too, the way things are going.

So, once again I have men on my roof, and Mi1dred has been scared by the noises up above her bonnet (as it's a multi-directional array). Good job there is plenty of chunky new cardboard to absorb her oily drips.

If the archives weren't dead (except from within) I could put up some comparison pictures. But, this is definitely much louder than the last time. Think pneumatic drill loud. I can hear the roof screaming.

And as for the scaffolding... 12 years ago it was a few poles and a couple of planks, with a ladder propped against it; this time it is fully safety railed, with swing access gates at one end and fully attached ladder systems.

Back to the coffee making duties...


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Do you love me enough to give me your last cat treat?

The excitement here is ongoing.

Air ambulances landing just behind the house, ambulances, nonagenarain neighbour's falls and distant vulture relatives who think 'he should be in a home' rather than living alone as he wants, as he has for the last 40 years, in the house he's inhabited in since 1935;
maternal 80th birthdays; scaffolding put up by a Jamaican b33keeper (and two others who immediately put up their hoodie hoods the minute they saw we had CCTV); lots of metally and sunshiney projects; finishing harvesting, and putting the garden to bed for the year; all peppered by increasingly large herds of deer (from four 5 or 6 years ago, to between 20 and 30 now), glorious blue skies and golden autumnal sunshine, albeit getting much colder, especially at nights, now. Often 20°C differences in temperature between 5pm and 11pm.

I am constantly grateful for the fact that Mr BW can do most things. I cannot imagine the frustration that people who rely on tradesmen and workmen to solve their ongoing 'household needs' must experience.

Our lives are currently beset by other people not doing what they're meant to, when they are meant to, or not doing it properly first time.

Both being 'do-ers', and both being used to being in control/charge, and getting things done properly, happily, and with the minimum necessary effort from everyone, it's hard to constantly be having to chase people good-naturedly, while simultaneously smiling/writing polite emails when we really want to tell them to bloody well get on with it and stop ----ing about.

For a non-biscuit and non-coffee household, we are certainly getting through biscuits and coffee this week.

And two shops in Local Small Town already have full FOTCR™ displays up.

I am not amused.

Posted at 11:09 AM | Comments (2)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Autumn 2018

It's 25.2°C at 3.30pm.

Mr BW is at pains to point out that it is raining and stormy north of a line from Devon to Northumberland.

Anyone got any advice about solar PV?

Given that our electricity (cheapest tarrif around) has gone up by 17.4% already this year, that leccy cars cometh (30kWh per 100 miles), that the FIT scheme ends early next year, that we have no gas here, that our oil boiler is 18 years old, and that prices of installations have dropped like a stone in recent months, it seems like a good time to finally take the plunge.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Useless fact of the day

I am amazed to discover that we have 70 light bulbs in various fixed lights around The Coven.

Of these, all but 6 are low energy (well, strictly speaking, all but 18, but all but 6 will be changed as they die).

It was 26.2°C on the external weather station thermometer (hidden in the shade under the eaves) at 5pm tonight. Someone told me today that she'd heard on the radio that it is now officially an Indian summer. Whatever that means. In fact, I'm amazed that one can still say that without being deemed politically incorrect.


Monday, October 8, 2018

8 10 18

Today's date is pleasing.

I am heartened that, over the course of my life, I have caused many people to also perceive such dates as pleasing, and to be constantly looking out for them.

I have discovered why The Universe provided me with a BW Blue wax crayon (*nods down*).

Sadly it has run out before I have been able to scribble waxily over lots of local crap.

In other news, I woke up on Sunday morning to a wooden tortoise staring me in the face. I am currently unnaturally fascinated by the geometry of tortoises.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sign of the times?

I found a BW Blue wax crayon (thin, unused, non-branded) down by the wheel of my car when we parked in a car park on Monday (full moon).

Most intriguing.

What is the significance of that I wonder?


Monday, September 17, 2018

Thought for our times

"Twitter, it seems, can radicalise anyone. That is deleterious on an individual level, but profoundly corrupting of the collective political process. The website is a vast polarising machine—a centrifuge that separates politics into the most extreme iterations of any given position. When the ideal conception of politics might be rival teams, advancing competing policy prescriptions based on some common set of facts, Twitter turns us into quasi-religious cults, looking at the world in terms of righteous believers and despicable blasphemers."

- Rafael Behr - how Twitter poisoned politics

The best explanation of the under-estimated and poorly understood effects of the Twitter phenomenon that I have read to date: "The strange story of how the decline and fall of political life has been fuelled by a website that started off as a platform for sharing gossip and cat photos,"


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Ten years on...

...and I'm unconvinced that things are that different in the capitalist world.

I was expecting, and hoping for, some really insightful commentary to what continues to plague the developed world, ten years on.

Sadly, I haven't seen much. In fact, from offers we've had from the 'financial world' of late, I fear that history is repeating itself.

Are the issues being debated elsewhere that I am missing, or do people really not care any more?


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Thought for the day

“Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

- Victor J Stenger


Friday, September 7, 2018


I still haven't got over seeing bread at £12 a loaf (yes, twelve pounds, for a loaf of rye bread) at a recent country fayre:

£8 and £12 for something I regularly knock up in a few minutes.

Who buys this stuff?

Yesterday, I saw some bars of soap for £8 in a 'shop for people with too much money' in a local town . "Only natural products, pure essential oils, hand-made!" claimed the point-of-sale display. Yeah, so is mine, and it costs less than a fiver to make 16 bars, because I've costed it out. £128 minus £5 = £123 profit. Sheesh.

I also strongly suspect that said shop is trading illegally, because, soaps, creams, ointments, balms etc sold to the public have to be tested and certified by a properly qualified chemist, which costs a minimum of £300 per product - hence why we don't (can't) sell the products we make from our own b33 products.

I'm always horrified when I see how much cleaning product Cleaner BW thinks is acceptable to 'discard'.

The image on the right is what she left in this week's 'empty' bottle.

I have her trained to leave 'empty' spray bottles by the utility sink, ready for me to remove labels and rinse out for re-use (so many purposes when you have a garden and crafty hobbies).

What she doesn't know is that I tip the remaining product into the new bottle she has started, rinse out the now-properly-empty spray bottle with liberal amounts of water, tip that into the new bottle too, before repurposing (I really hate that word) the original bottle.

Similarly, I always rinse out any empty shampoo and washing-up liquid bottles, and empty food jars and bottles.

I guess I'm in a minority there?


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Soft saddle

No, not my latest project, but rather an old specimen from a cycle museum.

Can't quite work out exactly the technique used: but, some sort of gathered weaving, with a bit of macramé.

Cyclists aren't my favourite people - I'm sick of the MAMILs and EMILs (*shudders*) racing through our lanes, disobeying traffic lights around roadworks (of which there have been many around here this summer, and plenty of contradictory diversion signs), cycling two or three abreast dangerously across the whole width of a lane, and shouting at the tops of their voices at each other as they pass houses in otherwise tranquil countryside. Who'd have thought that 2 minutes of Tour de France passing through in 2014 would have led to 2,000 cyclists passing through every week now?

A friend of mine stopped at road works had her car's wing mirror broken by a cyclist overtaking a car coming in the opposite direction, another elderly lady I know was sworn at by an impatient cyclist who thought that pedestrian crossings didn't apply to cyclists, and only just managed to swerve around her, and a 9 or 10 year old boy on a very solid mountain bike ran into the back of my leg (I was walking with a friend, on a pavement, in a small town) a couple of weeks ago, which put me out of action for a week, and is still lumpy deep in the muscle, bruised and painful.

It's time cyclists were required to have registration plates and insurance methinks. And better manners.


Monday, September 3, 2018

Highly charged

The Met Office have decreed that 2018 was the UK's hottest summer on record. Or the joint hottest (with 1976, 2003, 2006) depending on how many decimal places and how many constituent countries one considers.

After a cold grey spell last week, it turned hot again for the weekend, so Mi1dred took us out for the day yesterday: to a 22 hectare Open Garden which is also a (private) sculpture park of about 80 works, of which about a dozen are by the owner.

Every time I see open land measurements these days, I multiply the hectares by 60, which is urban density building, and what is planned for thousands of acres of idyllic rural, open countryside, greenfield, prime agricultural land in these parts (and many others around the country). Population expansion, we must build new cities on this land, to house all these people, they claim. Hmmm.

With Brexit set to fail, perhaps this might solve the over-population problem and save our green and pleasant land?

While Mi1dred (right of centre) made an exhibition of herself (alongside the electric car that had to be plugged in there because there was the only charging point - how the hell is charging going to work when we all have to have electric cars - most people can't remember to charge their phones or laptops, and those heavy-duty charging cords will be a thieves' paradise) we wandered round and I seriously coveted the insulator sculptures.

This one is called 'Electric Blue Flash' (the actual flash was blue artificial 'grass'), so they must have known I was visiting:

This installation is in the midst of a sea of raked gravel (Japanese style):

A close up:

I wondered where all these stacks of insulators had come from, and then I looked up. There are many huge pylons crossing the land, which must have been replaced:

I have collected quite a few small insulators now, but haven't yet stumbled upon any large ones. So many must have gone into landfill over the years, or be hanging around unwanted and unloved. If only I knew where they were hiding.


Friday, August 31, 2018


You have to be a long-time reader to understand that title.

These days, my laugh threshold is very high. I just don't find most so-called comedians funny. Must be the Political Correctness that pervades our world.

But, it's now a whole week since I heard something on the radio that made me laugh, and it makes me smile every time I remember it, or I hear an example of same.

"You can always tell posh people's kids - they're the ones who have dogs' names."


Friday, August 24, 2018

Horseshoe puzzle

Does anyone know anything about horseshoes?

We found this one in a pile of newer used horseshoes in a junkyard.

Unless it is from a rarely reshoed pit pony, it seems older, smaller, and thinner, than those normally seen these days, and looks hand, rather than machine, made. And it has a wavy edge.

Any ideas?


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Too many cucumbers?

We first made this cucumber pickle last year and it was fabulous. I was rather concerned that it wouldn't keep well, but we are still eating the last (forgotten and recently rediscovered) jar currently, and it is every bit as good as it was a year ago - but equally, it can be eaten immediately.

A few hints:

1. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters, then pass through the 'fine' slice blade on a food processor (or mandolin). It does need to be really fine. No need to peel or de-seed though. The onions are best cut in half before processing similarly. They do need peeling first though!

2. It really is worth leaving the salted vegetable mix, in a sieve, over a bowl, under a plate and a heavy weight, overnight. Over 2 pints of liquid came out of 5 cucumbers!

3. Last year I added a couple of star anise to the prescribed vinegar mix. This year I used some powdered star anise.

4. Fill the jars nearly full of the drained cucumber/onion mix, using a wide funnel. Then cover them with a clean cloth while you reduce the remaining vinegar syrup (which will take 10-15 minutes). I found that all the liquid went into my jars, eventually, but I had to use the handle end of a (sterilised) teaspoon to make some passages through the mix in the jars before adding the liquid. Make sure both jars and lids are really clean and heat-sterilised (eg in an oven or microwave).

5. I used red onions (our own) and it looks really pretty!

5 cucumbers (medium sized) made 4 1lb jars, so if you have a glut, it will use them up!

Cucumbers that are going yellow (so past their best) are fine too, as the brining will remove the bitterness.

Great with cheese, in sandwiches or pittas, and, I imagine, with cold meats and in burgers.

H0ney for Health

It’s official.

NICE, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, says take good local h0ney for coughs and colds, rather than antibiotics.

Been saying it for years…

Now, can we get the local surgeries to stock our h0ney? No, on second thoughts, we couldn't keep up with the demand.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Data protection gone mad


Great idea?

No, just another excuse for companies to hide behind.

Utilities companies refuse to put accounts for electricity, gas, water, mobile phones, broadband or landlines in joint names, and now refuse to talk to anyone who is not the actual named account holder.

They refuse to change the name on an account into the name of a spouse residing at the same address, insisting instead that the account be closed, and a new account, with a new contract, is opened. This could well be on less advantageous terms than the existing account, and will probably extend the time you are tied to that provider.

"What happens," I asked [a nameless telecoms company], "if the account holder dies?" "When we have a copy of the death certificate, and proof of the executor, we can talk to the executor," I was told. "Suppose," I said, "that the executor is a solicitor, what happens then?" "Then we will only speak to the solicitor." "Even if the person wanting to take over the account is a spouse who also lives in the household, if they are not the executor of the will, or if there is no will?" "Yes." "Really?" (and I still don't believe this)

"What happens," I asked, "if the account holder leaves the household? This must happen all the time with students and relationship break-ups." "Then we need written permission from the account holder to release the account to someone else." "Suppose they are a foreign student who has gone home and is not contactable, or an estranged partner who is being awkward?" "Well they remain responsible for the bills, as they are in that person's name, so it is in their interest to resolve matters." "And suppose they don't, and they don't pay the bills as they are no longer living there?" "Then we will take action against them to recover the debt, and cut off the service." "Ah, let me guess, the letters will be sent to the address they last lived at, which is where the poor person wishing to take over the service lives, but you won't speak to them, because they are not the account holder?" *silence*

Many insurance companies now refuse to renew a policy if you are a named driver, insisting that only the policyholder can do it. In many families, one person does the finance and admin work. This is going to be hugely inconvenient for many people.

Certain companies no longer allow you to have a 'third party mandate' to enable you to nominate someone to contact them on your behalf (for instance, in case of illness or other absence from home making personal contact impossible).

I am unconvinced that this is what was intended by the GDPR, or that it is what it actually says, but try telling that to a jobsworth (at any level in a company - they all spout the same line now) on the end of a telephone.

And just wait until the new regulation that prohibits anyone except the account holder paying cash into a bank account (even with a pre-printed paying in slip, or a signed letter of authority from the account holder). Apparently the workaround is to pay the cash into your own bank account and then do an immediate electronic transfer. Which I'm sure will please HMRC as they will then be able to attempt to tax you on the money, as, being cash, you won't be able to prove where it's come from.

Some banks have introduced it already, and some (eg HSBC) are awaiting the Regulator's final direction. Some banks are are also refusing to allow cheques to be paid in by other than the recipient.

Is money laundering such a huge issue, or is it, sledgehammer to crack nut, meaning law-abiding people are, once again, greatly inconvenienced because of the few?

Or perhaps it is yet another attempt to force us all to abandon cash and cheques entirely?

Progress, eh? Have you come across any examples of gross stupidity along these lines? Or do you know anything more about any of the matters above?

Posted at 12:04 PM | Comments (10)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thought for the day

It feels like 1976. And that long, hot summer didn’t end well

- Andy Beckett

A good piece about the last really hot summer, 42 years ago, which was followed by a soaking, grey, autumn. "Just like this year’s, the heatwave in 1976 arrived as Britain seemed to be approaching an economic and political abyss."

Posted at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

I always knew courgettes were stupid...

... I now have the proof:

Who would volunteer to be trapped?

We use old hanging baskets (amongst over things) as covers for newly-sown or newly-planted crops. There is always another use for something before recycling it. Sometimes it takes a bit of creative thinking, but there is always another use.

The 'Reduce, re-use, recycle!' mantra needs to have added to it: repair, and rethink. Some areas have adopted the 5Rs, but not all - and some have added a 6th: refuse. This stuff is what I have been doing all my life though...


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Looking peachy

There is nothing to beat the taste of a fully sun-ripened peach. Full-size and juicily orange-fleshed this year, thanks to many weeks of glorious hot sun, and an auto-watering system delivering just the right amount of water to the roots:

And there are plenty more on the patio peach tree (covered with fleece to keep the wasps away).

Here's the finished fuchsia glass table top, about 1cm thick, with a matt (non-slip) surface after two firings:

Not a very good picture as there isn't any nice shiny thing in the sky today.

Here it is after the first firing. Shiny, not flat, and needing a little remedial attention to the ends of the longer stamens as the opal pink we originally picked proved too similar to the white opal background:

And here's the photo I posted before so you can see how the colours changed during firing:

Here is the deteriorated mosaic top it is replacing. Tip: never make an outdoor mosaic from old crockery. Over time, the glaze will come off some of the bits, even if you think they will be frost proof:

Although you wouldn't know it now, this flower once had BW blue petals and was really quite nice.

I'll post a picture of the finished table soon - it's currently being repainted.

Posted at 12:08 PM | Comments (2)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thought for the day

"Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn."

- Benjamin Franklin

(via - and do read this entire thread; it perfectly encapsulates what has got lost - or is missing - in today's England)


Sunday, August 12, 2018

How do you brighten up a grey day?

Monday 6th: 33°C; summer. Glorious golden sunshine.
Tuesday 7th: 31°C; summer. Sunshine.
Wednesday 8th: 21°C; autumn. Overcast.

Thursday 9th: 15°C; winter. Grey drizzle.
Friday 10th: 16°C; winter. Light rain.
Saturday 11th: 16°C; winter. More light rain. Time to hibernate. And put the winter-weight duvet back on the bed.

Fuchsias are my favourite flower.

We have somewhere between 30 and 40 different ones, but can always welcome more to the family. The small fortune we have spent on vine weevil nematodes has proved really effective, and situating the majority in what is usually full shade (but not this year!) has worked well.


Connor's Cascade:

We've been to 3 fuchsia shows recently. One is an exhibition, two are competitions. All sell members' surplus plants.


Inspired by these, Mr BW has been busy cutting up glass to make another table top (this one to replace the now-disintegrated mosaic top on the original scrap metal outdoor table that Mr BW forged a couple of years ago).

Here it is in the kiln waiting to be fired. The bits around the edge are the offcut scraps of glass that turn into smooth-edged beads (that can then be used for other projects) once fired:

Some (but not all) of the glass changes colour completely when it is heated (hence the test piece in the middle of the 'construction' picture above).

So, while I wait 18 hours to see whether we have judged the colours correctly, I shall sit in my new chair.

I bought the unloved chair for £1 at a local village garage sale, covered in very nasty, very thick, brown varnish (with some patches of white gloss underneath), which Mr BW painstakingly removed.

He then waxed it with beeswax polish (our own), and I made a cushion from raw fleece given to me, which I washed, carded, dyed, spun, then crocheted. The cushion is stuffed with more washed fleece, and will flatten down (felt) in a few weeks to be the exact size of the chair seat.

Amazing what you can get for £1 if you can be bothered to spend a little time.

I'll post a picture of the glass top later, when the kiln programme is finished.

Posted at 10:00 AM | Comments (6)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

I can't possibly comment...

Apologies to the many people who have left comments in recent weeks that have not appeared.

I'd forgotten to check the black hole where the spam goes.

Anything with any URL goes to spam. I don't know how to stop that. I forgot that when both Scoakat and Delcatto told me they'd had problems, and it wasn't until yesterday when Tim emailed that I thought to check. Sorry.

All 28 comments are now published.

As I've always said, a blog without comments is just a website. I do appreciate your comments, and promise to keep a close watch on the sin bin in future, and to save any goodies before they drown.


Friday, August 10, 2018

An unsatisfactory end to a R4 era of great journalism

Eddie has left the building.

From reading his email in that link, he left 2 days before planned, and 7 shows before the 17th, the date that the BBC had told the audience would be his last show. Last night's stand-in presenter made some allusion to "all will become clear tomorrow", so there was clearly an editorial decision to keep the full facts from the loyal audience.

Which seems to be typical of the BBC these days.

I am officially in mourning.

And no word on his replacement. But - who can fill his shoes anyway? I don't know of anyone else who has his skill to ask the questions that no-one else thinks of, in an affable and pleasant manner; to challenge without belittling, and to be genuinely interesting and informative.

Now, can I get LBC this far out of London?


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Happy Lammas


I shall never tire of noticing lovely numbers like this.
I'm so glad that my pleasurable moments come so cost-free.

One of my Patchy Ladies, described by another, in the former's absence, as, "A good old-fashioned country lady," today opined that the weather in the first week of August can be safely used to predict the type of winter we will have.

Apparently, the hotter this week of summer, the colder the winter. I wish I could find some easy-access statistics to prove or disprove this. But it does sound quite appealing. Back to the past with childhood memories of hot summers and cold winters. Proper variation between the seasons.

After 4 cooler days it's now hotting up again. It's still 27°C on the inside thermometer now, Hurrah!


Monday, July 30, 2018

8 weeks and 2 days without precipitation

Everyone else seems to be having lots of rain.

We had 6 minutes soon after 6am on Friday (58 days since the last rain), then 9 minutes soon after 6pm, a lot of distant thunder, then some very light drizzle and lots of wind (that dried the rain before it could soak in) today.

We don't have a rain gauge, but I doubt if it would be more than 15mm in total.

And as for all those who are claiming that the future water for all the hundreds of thousands of new (un)affordable houses being planned for rural green agricultural land in this area will come from 'a national water grid, being fed from the north', well...

As ever, I am saying that the biggest problem being faced by this country is not whatever the media are currently barking, but rather population growth.

For posterity:

Temperature while out in the car on Thursday:

Temperature while out in the car on Friday:

Temperature on the thermometer on the west-facing wall on Friday evening:

Sadly, since then, it's been 22°C on Saturday, 18°C on Sunday and 21°C and very very humid today.

It's too cold!

I hate it!

I might have to take the 1 tog duvet off the bed and put the winter one back on.

And replace the wall fan with the central heating.

I've had my paddler out (number 2 of 3 bought in Woolworth's closing down sale):

Mr BW has been making metal flowers (presumably against future drought):

But, for the time being, the flowers by the pond are beautiful:

How's the water/weather situation where you are?


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Thought for the day

"Looking around the world, I wonder if there are truly any countries where things are still in balance?

I don't see any.

I also wonder what has caused this mess?"

- BW, elsewhere


Friday, July 20, 2018

Arts and Crafts

Very much in line with the thinking of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, when we want something new, we usually make it ourselves. Fortunately, between us we have the skills to do almost anything. Mr BW does hard materials, and I do soft materials and design and colour advice. And teeth sucking.

Some months ago, Mr BW made a forged table out of an old tractor gear wheel that someone gave him, and had it galvanised when he had the new back gate he made (that I've shown you before - March 29th, below) galvanised.

It's been waiting for its top. We made a top for a previous similar table out of a mosaic made from old crockery, but this has deteriorated over several winters. Things sometimes have to wait for inspiration to strike before they can be finished.

Inspiration struck last week, and we decided to make a tabletop out of glass.

We worked out an agapanthus design, and Mr BW cut the bits out of coloured glass and placed them on a clear glass disc. As (frustratingly) I can no longer cut glass, I pushed the bits around by a few millimetres, and insisted on some tiny bits of different colour to improve the flow and 3D effect.

When it came out of the kiln after its first fusing, I knew that it wasn't right. I'd known before it went in the kiln, but hadn't insisted loudly enough. So we had to add to it when it had its second firing onto the white glass background.

That worked well, and it then had a third firing, with the top face-down on the kiln shelf (to make the surface matt and non-slip rather than glossy), while also adding a further clear glass disc to the back to make the finished glass disc much stronger. Mr BW has now perfected the fusing times needed for different effects, but, as it involves technology, I haven't a clue how to programme the kiln.

Once it was cool, we tried it on the table and both immediately knew that, despite what we'd originally thought, the silver-grey of the raw galvanising wasn't right.

Mr BW got out his spray can and immediately the agapanthus came to life.

Ooops, no, those are the ones in a pot in the Mediterranean Garden. Given where they come from naturally (southern African), they are amazing this year.

The finished table:

Now to have another inspiration for redoing the deteriorated mosaic top on the original table...


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Random thoughts

It is now 7 weeks exactly since any rain at all fell here.

I have no idea why this site's guts are intermittently not working. Apologies if you have been intermittently locked out; I have too. Like much other technology, it hates me. And vice versa.

I also have no idea when the ridiculous system of 'government' in this country will implode, but it will sometime quite soon. Hopefully.

This situation made worse by Eddie Mair leaving Radio 4's PM (arguably the most digestible serious journalism) in the middle of the Brexit debacle. Can we get LBC 50 miles outside London?

But why anyone is surprised by how the Other 27 are behaving is beyond me - many years of Eurovision should have made what is happening entirely predictable. Why would you lose a Cash Cow, that you only tolerated for its monetary contributions, without getting as much out of them as you possibly could?

Jacob or Boris next?

I am hoping that Mr BW is not currently winning the golf tournament at the Mi1dred meeting tonight. I do not like the trophy and I do not want it again littering The Coven for the next year. But it amuses me that someone who played golf for only a brief time, 30 years ago, and is left handed, can beat regular golfers, while also playing with a right handed bat.

One of our broadband lines got switched to 'superfast' last week, for free. It now achieves 3.9MB, still less than a quarter of what we already pay for. The only way to make providers improve the situation is for there to be an 'only pay for the speed you get' clause. The other line gets somewhere between 0.8 and 1.6MB depending on which way the wind is blowing. You might be able to understand why I hate technology - it's never going to work under those parameters, is it?

We are extracting h0ney in the morning. For the second time this year. This year's unpaid apprentice is a senior member of the judiciary. Mr BW seems to be much more worried about preparations than usual. I'm worried that I might answer the door with a, "Good morning judge, how are you today?" I'm sure he's heard it a million times before. Ah, Deceptive Bends. How can that be 41 years ago?

I'm worried by the number of friends and acquaintances whose kids and grandkids are addicted to Fortnite. The (English state school) summer holidays start this week. R4's Moral Maze tonight had some interesting contributors to the internet addiction debate. And interesting generational splits in thinking.

Waste is a failure of imagination.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday 13th


Thursday, July 12, 2018

It's still going strong

I should know how many years on, but I don't.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Exactly how did it get to the second half of the year?

There are now 68 days fewer of my life left than when I last posted.

It's likely that listening to that recent "I was..." programme on R4 including tales of Philip Larkin was not the best move. But, This Be The Verse.

At least most of those days were in the high 20s to mid 30s C. My favourite temperature, not often experienced in the UK, but we haven't had even a drop of rain since the end of May, which has meant lots of work to keep animals and crops hydrated. Give it a few years (particularly if the current senseless house building hereabouts continues unabated) and we'll all be down to 50 litres of water per person per day for everything, as they were in Cape Town when we were there at the beginning of the year.

Great excitement this week.

The Local Farmers have a brand new combine harvester, and have been cutting grass with it, using a BW blue chopper. For seed, not hay, I hasten to add. I wish I could find out who they were selling to... the purchasers are going to be sorely disappointed as there was no roguing done and 5 metres of weeds seeding into the crop from the field boundary border (can't wait until the subsidy for growing weeds that do nothing for the environment, other than make us weeding work, ends).

On Monday I saw (actually, heard first) 3 Lightnings (the new F-35 stealth fighter jets) whizzing, in stagger formation, almost on their sides, over Lavenham in Suffolk. If I had blinked, I'd have missed them. Exhilarating.

Yesterday I saw 97 other planes as well.

No, that's not quite true as the helicopters (Puma, Chinook, Juno and Jupiter) weren't leading the procession this far out; I understand they massed over Leyton.

We were sat in a field margin with a wide border of ragwort. Clearly ragwort isn't now the baddie that it used to be, although it taints h0ney, so does die on sight around here.

Looking at the published route, north of the A12, Mr BW came up with the theory that the planes would be following the railway line (which largely runs parallel to the road), as some of them only have war-navigation capabilities, and these often involved railway lines. We considered watching from one of the bridges over the A12, but arrived early and found them already crowded. Plus, I had a feeling that they wouldn't fly right over the road as it would have the potential to cause accidents (that stretch is infamous at the best of times). Hence going half a mile north, and into a field that Mr BW had noticed a car entering as we first passed, which gave us a fabulous view. 180 degrees of unobscured sky. I doubt that anyone on the A12 bridges saw much, as the planes were still fractionally north of us. There were two cars there when we arrived, and another half dozen cars (containing the older retired demographic) turned up after us.

From about 12.35pm, The WW2 Battle of Britain Memorial Flight planes (Dakota, Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire) did three wide circuits over us, obviously killing time before the modern planes turned up at just after 12.45pm. Although we get a lot of old planes flying low over us at home on their way to or from airshows in the summer, these old timers never fail to delight me.

And gosh, despite bright sunlight completely obliterating my camera screen, I did manage to get a close up of my favourite with my long nose.

I'm never quite sure what planes are what though, so was delighted that the RAF published a crib sheet, in flying order, which I printed off and took along.

The whole line-up took about 10 minutes to go over. Other planes we saw included the Prefect, Tucano, Hawk, Hercules, Atlas A400M, C-17, BAe 146, Sentinel, Voyager, Shadow, Rivet Joint (what a great name), E-3D Sentry, Tornado GR4, Typhoon and, right at the end, the Red Arrows, who were obviously saving their smoke.

We saw the 100, made out of 22 Tornadoes:

But also noticed the plane choreographing it (top right), that did a quick about-turn and returned to base (coming back over us) before reaching London. Ha, we know the secret!

Utterly, utterly breathtaking; even though I am totally anti-war.

But, much as I liked the planes doing a ceremonial fly-past, I still don't agree that the UK's defence budget should rise from 2 to 3% of GDP as some are currently positing.

And, on Friday, something very very exciting is happening. Very exciting indeed.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Colourful difficulties

I'm glad that I don't believe in Party politics.

I'm relieved that we don't have local elections here today, because, in the absence of some form of proportional representation, it is a total waste of time voting.

As I've said before, round here, if a Blue rosette were stuck on a pig, it would get elected, mindlessly and unthinkingly, just because it was Blue.

Now, I like blue. But not, mindlessly and unthinkingly, Blue.

Local politics have fallen apart round here since Blue control at District level replaced Orange control. What the hell is the point of the Localism Act of 2011 when anything done locally in its name is constantly bulldozered by District Blue-rosette-wearing swine, who robotically toe the Party line and do as Blue Central Government decree, unchallengingly, and irrespective of whether it is best for the people and area that they are supposed to represent?

I'm delighted to see that some followers of Corbyn are slowly beginning to see that the promised dream isn't being (and can't, and won't be) delivered. And, more importantly, are coming out in public and admitting that they were misled/wrong, and that they were carried along on a sledge of group think.

Perhaps these disillusioned people might now turn their energies to campaigning for proportional representation?

It's the only way Party Politics and the way the country functions might change for the better. It's the only way that every vote can count.

And, without sensible Opposition, the Party in Power will always be too Powerful.

Posted at 10:21 AM | Comments (4)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It pays to reject minimalism

For some time now we have had Gardeners’ World cloche envy. If you watch the programme, and are a keen gardener, you'll probably know what I mean.

Some years ago now, Mr BW constructed some home-made cloches from some old bases that were about to go in a skip after being used on an exhibition stand.

They are (were), to say the least, now well beyond their best. They were rusty, the hoops were made from plastic pipe that had deteriorated over the years, and their covering of netting was torn.

With spring finally approaching and Monty Don’s cloches in full view on Gardeners’ World last week, the time had come for Mr BW to update ours.

He started by cleaning them back to rust-free metal. Then he welded in 10mm steel hoops for stability. A coat of rust-protecting undercoat and a top-coat of black paint ensured that they will last for many years.

Finally, some old plastic corrugated sheeting, saved from a skip at least 15 years ago (having served its purpose as a friend’s ‘lean-to’ roof), was located hiding near the oil tank, washed-off, then cut to slot inside the hoops. The end panels were cut from some off-cut plastic sheeting used in picture framing, held in place with some old tent pegs.

The corrugated plastic can easily be slid out and replaced with netting for summer protection of brassicas.

Total cost - about £2 for the metal used in the hoops, and £3 for the paint, the rest was recycled, or re-used. Saving? About £85 I think. And I'll bet ours last longer than theirs!

Only thing is, Monty has many more that we have, and believing that we still need more, I sent Mr BW to look round the Coven Grounds. He's just found another base behind the polytunnel, ripe for conversion...

I never rarely say 'no' when someone offers me something that is no longer useful to them. Most things usually comes in handy, eventually. Mr BW never knows what I will come home with when I go to one of my crafty groups. Many of the members are older, and seem to be in a constant process of decluttering or downsizing, and apparently can only bear to part with things because they know they will be put to good use at The Coven. I also have people who always save their jars, pots for plants, newspapers, cardboard boxes and other packing materials, for us, because re-use is so much better than recycling.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day, May Day, May Day!

The world has moved so far away from what was once normal, and stayed away for so long, that what we are living now has become normality. A sustained assault on everything, infesting our society until we simply got used to it and gave up.

I think the problem comes from the fact that most people are now totally disconnected from their physical and local environment, the fulfillment of their basic needs by their own efforts, and from their physical and local community.

Want something? Buy it. No idea of making it, growing it, cooking it, swopping/bartering for it, or (shock horror) saving up for it.

News is instantaneous and stutters from one subject to the next, with no feedback or update on past stories. So, no opportunity to learn from, or feel connected to, the past. No idea of continuity or cause/effect. No long-term buy-in.

Everything is a knee-jerk response. Not enough reflection, questioning, discussing.

And no sense that anything one does makes the slightest bit of a difference.

But it doesn't have to be like this.

Does it?


Saturday, April 28, 2018

For those, like me, who love stars, as long as they are of the astronomical rather than the 'celebrity' variety

A mesmerizing new atlas of the Milky Way: containing 1.7 billion stars.

ESA now think that there are probably 100 billion stars in our galaxy (which is many times more than they conjectured when the Gaia project started).

More details here.

Interactive map of all the stars here. Amazing and beautiful images (easiest to use if you click on the symbol of a cube with question marks on the top left - and then use the '+' button on the RHS to zoom in). That's my weekend sorted :)

Let's hope there is something better out there somewhere... and that we don't find our way there to spoil it.

Posted at 12:20 PM | Comments (6)

Friday, April 27, 2018

A cool spell

Summer was 5 days in the middle of April. From snow and minuses to golden sun and 30 degrees in 10 days. And now its back to grey, rainy, and cold. Ugggggg.

Between us, Mr BW and I have 21 current accounts. It's the only way to get a decent interest rate these days.

And, of course, to ensure that one always has access to some pennies, however negligent a particular bank is being in upgrading its technology. A whole week now eh, TSB?

Apparently they can't work out what has gone wrong.

Well, I can now exclusively reveal what has happened.

Never piss off a Witch is all I can say.

*cackles evilly*

Last month I tried to remove several past years' online regular savings accounts, with a nil balance (as I'd immediately moved out the proceeds as soon as the accounts matured at the end of 12 months), from my online statement list. After all, banks always tell you to close unused accounts, for security reasons.

With Halifax/BoS/Lloyds (on whose online platform TSB was based) you click one button, and old accounts magically and instantly disappear. With TSB, despite having looked on many occasions, I could not find a button to click, so I eventually gave up looking and rang up.

'Chardonnay', from somewhere in the Midlands, answered my call, after 6 minutes on hold, with no apology for the wait.

I explained my problem. She sighed and informed me that the only way to close such accounts was to visit a branch. I explained that they were online accounts, and I lived a 32 mile round journey from a branch, which I had never needed to visit.

I didn't like her tone, and suggested that she might like to try to be rather more helpful. Her reply caused me to ask to speak to her supervisor, having first stated that I was recording the call (I wasn't, but I wanted her to think carefully about how she spoke to customers in the future, and not to cut me off).

After another 8 minutes of nasty, headache-inducing music, the supervisor came on the line. Her name was (wait for this) 'Chelsea'. Same Midlands accent, and she seemed even dimmer and even more bored and unhelpful than the first operative.

I went through the story again. She repeated what I'd been told, speaking v-e-r-y slowly. When I expressed extreme dissatisfaction, she said that, in my case, I could send in a letter. Not an email, but a letter, and that this 'might' be acceptable to cancel the accounts - which, remember, were exclusively online-operated accounts, that had had a zero balance for many months.

I asked to speak to the floor manager. "He's not available for such matters!" she told me. "And his name is...?" I asked. "I'm not allowed to give out his name," she said.

"I'll guess it's 'Shiraz' or 'West Bromwich Albion' then," I said. "Now you're just being silly!" she said, clearly not understanding my thought patterns. "Now you're just beginning to understand how *I'm* feeling!" I said, "But, I need to tell you that I am recording this call, and I doubt your CEO is going to be terribly impressed by you telling me that I am silly when the recording arrives in his inbox."

After another 5 minutes of 'discussion', I finally got her to agree to arrange to close the accounts. "I'll have to send an email to another department" she wailed. "Why is that difficult?" I asked. She didn't answer.

By then I'd been on the phone for 29 minutes. I considered that this was due some kind of goodwill payment, to include the cost of the telephone call.

Now, my main bank would, without needing to be asked, have offered me at least £20 in such circumstances. 'Chelsea' offered me 75p, "take it or leave it," so I took it and reserved the right to complain further.

Or to do a stroooong spell.

The moral of this tale?

Never piss off a Witch, especially if your name is 'Chelsea'.

Now, do I have the ingredients for the antidote? And if I do, how long should I wait?


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Wild life

I'm going out with Textile Friend BW tomorrow, to see a textiley exhibition.

Last night I looked up the weather forecast for Wednesday. "Gosh, it's going to be sunny and 28°C. That's better!" I told Mr BW. He frowned and looked over at my screen. "Erm, I think you're looking at the forecast for Cape Town and not Cambridge!"

Er, yes. I do rather torture myself at certain times of year. And I was tired.

A few weeks ago I received the 'project card' below in the post. So far I have challenged members of staff in 4 different locations of the gardening chain's stores about it. Not one person could see what was wrong with it.

I explained and asked them to pass on my concerns to the store manager, and ask them to contact their Head Office. I am very frustrated to find that the large display posters are still on display in stores now.

A total triumph of some city kids in marketing coming up with something 'pretty', over genuine knowledge of wildlife and its needs.

As usual from the 'garden centre' that is, in reality, a gift shop, caff and kids' playground, with a few totally overpriced and under-cared-for plants. Sadly they (and their ilk) have killed off most of the decent plant nurseries.

I hasten to add that I have only been in 4 branches because I was looking for bargain plug plants. And found them (20 for £1 rather than £4, and in better condition that those in local stores: the polytunnel is full!) :)

Do tell me that you can see what's wrong with this project, please...


Monday, April 2, 2018

When things don't add up

The other day, in reponse to a post about impossible statistics, over at LaP's, I was lamenting the fact that,

"... people believe what they hear/read, mindlessly, without thinking whether it can possibly be true, and without checking for original sources.

People don't understand statistics, or numbers, these days.

Now I just tune out of/walk away from any conversations that start with, "Do you know what I read on Farcebook?" Sooner or later I am accidentally going to say, "No, and I don't give a f*** as it will all be sh**!!!" "

We are constantly fed ridiculous numbers.

Yesterday the BBC One Breakfast News were claiming that one in five people admit to dropping litter. I don't think this was an April Fool's joke (and if it was, it's not funny, given the state of the verges and sides of most roads). I don't see how a recycling scheme, with 'reverse vending machines' for all drinks containers, irrespective of the material they are made of, will stop littering. They will cost a fortune to provide, and to run, as the article says.

I shall continue to believe that what we need isn't stupid schemes, it's ongoing consumer education and campaigns about littering, and proper recycling, with innovative methods of reprocessing all materials, that is the same in every area of the country.

And as for clearing up the existing litter? Well, there are plenty of long-term unemployed people out there... if they repeatedly claim they can't find a job, and can't be 'encouraged' to take one, even after the plethora of sanctions and 'work programmes' there are these days, then let one be created for them: picking up litter.

In many villages around here, there are litter-picking days several times a year when volunteers turn out to collect the litter that other people have mindlessly dropped. If litter-picking is good enough for the Middle-Aged of Middle England, then it's good enough for those who can't be bothered to get out of bed in the mornings. There is plenty of research on the social profiles of the litterati.

New rules came into force yesterday to fine people for dropping litter - but what is the point of fining? Reparation - for instance, ten hours of supervised litter-picking for each item of litter dropped would be much more of a deterrent. And images sent in by passers-by who witness fly-tipping and litter-throwing should also be considered. Yes, I know it's easy to manipulate digital images, but surely there must be some way to detect real images from altered?

And then there is the old chestnut about one third of all food is thrown away. Does that 'third' include, for example, vegetable and fruit peelings, and does that include what is composted by people at home?

Where can we see the original sources? So much 'research' is sponsored research these days, and cannot be trusted.

It's time that the websites of all news providers gave links to the original source of their 'stories'.

And it's time that a Delia Smith of numbers and statistics started doing some high-profile programmes across 'media platforms' to explain what statistics really mean. It's all very well Radio 4 doing occasional series of 'More or Less', but that's preaching to the converted, erm, I mean educated.


Saturday, March 31, 2018


We noticed a huge variation in the price of diesel between here and Birmingham last week.

It's 122.9 pence per litre (£5.59 per gallon) here at present. The most expensive we saw was on the M1 (140.0 ppl = £6.37 per gallon). The cheapest I found was at Costco in Birmingham at 113.7ppp (£5.17 a gallon).

That is £1.20 per gallon difference between the cheapest and the most expensive: or well over £13 on the average tank full.

That's bad, but there is worse, at least for those of us who live in more rural areas that don't have a gas supply.

Here is a chart of the price of Brent crude over the past year (in dollars per barrel):

Here is a chart of the price of heating oil in England over the last year (in pence per litre):

They don't exactly match, do they?

I can't find a chart of the average weather temperature over the past year (cf previous years), but I strongly suspect that the heating oil price follows the weather (inversely) more than the wholesale oil price.

I've always rung around local suppliers for the best litre price when we need heating oil. I've written about my 'triumphs' on past occasions many times.

A few years ago, the advent of the 'Boiler Juice' made getting the best deal rather easier: "So, you're telling me that your best price is x, but Boiler Juice are currently giving me a price of x-y ppl. As I know that you often deliver to me when I order via Boiler Juice, surely you can do better than that, y'know, cut out the middle-man..."

The price of any oil product is, of course, affected by factors such as crude oil prices, rates of production (ie world levels of supply), processing and distribution costs, local demand, the strength of local currencies, and local taxation, but, the price of heating oil when it's colder is just profiteering, particularly as the larger suppliers order months ahead to fix their prices, and the smaller suppliers buy from the larger.

I always avoid cold spells to order oil, and will often fill the tank when prices are low in the summer. Return on cash savings in the bank is around 2%, inflation is around 3%, the value of our capital is therefore decreasing 1% per year, so I endeavour to only top up only when it's cheap and save maybe 10-15% overall.

I've been watching the price of heating oil since we came back from abroad a month ago. Often Boiler Juice haven't been able to quote a price (ie their contracted suppliers aren't interested in quoting), or it's been stupidly expensive (the worst 69.8 ppl+ 5% VAT, on a 2 week lead time). It's been hovering around 60 ppl +5% VAT for the past week.

Given that I paid 37.6 ppl (+5% VAT) last September, I am not about to pay over half as much again now. So, we've had the heating turned off (in a normal year it's only on from mid-November to the beginning of March anyway, and we do have 2 wood burners and an Aga that gives off background warmth) to save what oil we've got left.

A friend told me about a local-ish lady who got fed up with being ripped off by the big oil-supply companies and set up her own small local company to challenge them. She doesn't advertise, and relies on word-of-mouth. I spoke to her and placed an order a couple of days ago. At the time the BJ price was 62.0ppl. Hers was 46.1ppl. Given that she doesn't have economies of scale, one can only conclude that, aside of the weather, what keeps heating oil prices high is (a) shareholders, and (b) oil company cartel pricing.

And, for anyone who buys oil through BJ... I've noticed that now they can't make money from imposing excessive credit card charges (it used to be £5.95, but free if you paid by 'cash'), they are putting a £2.99 fee on every transaction, so that adds significantly to the litre price for everyone, even if you pay by debit card or bank transfer. So, if you want the best price (and who likes being ripped off?) it's now more important than ever to ring around your local suppliers when ordering.

If the price of gas or electricity varied unpredictably by 60% when it got cold there would be an outcry.

Posted at 10:03 AM | Comments (3)

Friday, March 30, 2018

How much?

The vegetable wars are on again in the supermarkets.

This tray: 6 x 1.5kg King Edward mini-roasts (the new 'clever marketing' name for the little potatoes that most people would otherwise not buy), 3 x 500g parsnips, 1 x 500g shallots and 4 tins of chopped tomatoes was... guess how much? £10 maybe?


I thought that my 3 bags of potatoes or onions for £1 in Morrisons last weekend was good, but Lidl's outdid them.

Which is just as well as we seem to be in one of those 'things going wrong' phases.

Firstly, a couple of weeks ago, the HP all-in-one OfficeJet printer (well over 10, had done nearly 55,000 copies) died, then this morning the flush on the cloakroom toilet was found to be defective (it's old style, and will involve Mr BW taking the whole cistern off the wall to fix in the replacement part - and it's not that long since it was last replaced), and now the large larder fridge has ceased to function.

Just after I'd taken a shelf out to wash it, the inside light didn't come on again, and it stopped cooling. Mr BW did a post mortem and deemed it not easily fixed. The door seal had split in one place too, although that didn't seem to be affecting functioning.

It's 10 years and 3 days old, and was bought to replace the last one that also died at Easter. This time though, I didn't need to rush round the local white-goods selling places with my tape measure (it's a very unusual size space that it has to fit in), and then wait 5 days for it to be delivered. I simply sat at my computer, found the updated model (exactly the same dimensions) and put in my credit card details. It could have been delivered tomorrow, but that was £25, and we do have a small utility fridge that will take most of the contents for a couple of days. So it's going to be delivered on Sunday (yes, Easter Sunday, April 1st) for £10. It was free delivery from Wednesday onwards, but I decided that 5 days without a fridge was too much. And, the new one will (according to the scores on the doors) use £6 a year less of electricity than the current one, which is nearly the £10.

Then, the company I am buying from rang to confirm all the details and offered me a free removal/disposal of the old one - I'd said 'no' to the £20 to take it away during the online checkout. As I'm hoping the old shelves and door bins will fit the new model (if they don't, they will be good covers for use in the vegetable garden or polytunnel), they won't be getting those!

So, while I wait for the next malfunction, I shall drown my sorrows and start on the 30 litres of last autumn's deliciously dry cider that Mr BW has just bottled.

Mmmm, scrumpy. *I* may well be the next malfunction...


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Last weekend, at the Classic Car Show,

Mr BW bought himself a new toy.

Or rather, two new toys, as one, I'm told, is needed to power the other.

He has lots and lots of toys already: some person-powered, some electricity powered, and some petrol powered. All very useful. But, he couldn't make another one of these (this is our new field gate - which has various edibles to grow over the top, to camouflage the anti-climb teeth; excuse the poor lighting, but it's only nearly April...) without some new items, as he made parts of this several years ago, before he set himself up with a home forge:

The first package arrived on Wednesday, after a delivery saga of endemic proportions (UK Mail - you might now be 'part of DHL' but you're still shit at delivering in a timely and credible manner around here), which followed a delivery saga involving similar lying by a Yodel operative the previous week (no point saying you've been and there was no-one in when we have CCTV and there is no card left as you claimed).

The second parcel was dispatched yesterday on a 3-5 day delivery (TNT) and I was happy as, discounting the bank holidays and weekend days, that would give me four more days in which he could only stroke the body of the new toy lovingly and dream of projects involving it.

Unfortunately for me, TNT have over-delivered, and the package has arrived next-day. They now join DPD as the only reliable delivery company around here. Mind you, DPD still have the best tracking process, and the politest and most helpful drivers, which may or may not be due to the fact that they operate as franchises, within defined geographical areas, rather than by employing people piecemeal on zero hours contracts, and sending them to a different area every day.

I expect to next see Mr BW sometime in June.

You can guess what the toys are if you like.

This is the size of the larger box (not sure if a cardboard pallet is greener than a wooden one, and definitely dislike the black plastic covering and the polystyrene interior packaging):

The other part of the system is in a similar box, with similar nasty polystyrene packaging, but only about half this size.

Are there fewer problems with delivery companies in other areas these days?

Are we just unlucky because we live a long way from most of the depots and the drivers can't be bothered to come out here if they have no other deliveries in this area as they only get 50p-£1 per parcel?


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Plastics Part 3

We went up to the Midlands at the end of last week as Mr BW wanted to go to the Classic Car Show at the NEC.

Apart from being accosted by a policeman for sitting in my car in a muddy layby in the middle of nowhere, listening to the radio and sewing the binding (edging) onto my VLQ (Very Large Quilt - like the VLT - Very Large Telescope, but textiley rather than metally and spacey), I had a generally nice time doing not much while Mr BW spent lots of pennies to keep himself happy and occupied for the rest of the year.

And yes, after I'd pointed out that I was (Middle-Aged) 'Madam' and not (Young) 'Sir', I did ask the policeman for his warrant card, and yes I did make him look at my quilt, and no, he wasn't interested, and no I didn't ask him why he hadn't got proper work to do (although I wanted to), largely because I didn't want the hassle that would undoubtedly have ensued. But I was annoyed. Lesson to all: never sit in a layby minding your own business in the countryside near Birmingham.

On the way home, I was horrified at the amount of plastic litter by the sides of the A14 from where it joined the M6, and then along the M11 and A120 (although, to be fair to my Local Authority, there was less at the end). I have never seen litter like it - and I imagine it would take thousands of person-hours and thousands of litter sacks to pick it all up: money Local Authorities currently don't have. As many miles of these roads have no hard shoulder, it would also involve closing at least one carriageway, which would cause traffic chaos.

Last night the BBC News had a story on the huge amount of plastics currently in the Grand Union Canal - which, as it goes from London to Birmingham, rather mirrors what I noticed.

I noted that many laybys had either no bins, over-flowing bins, or open-sided bins (so gusts of wind blow items out of bins that are anywhere over half full), so I was unsuprised about the litter on the sides of the road. If Local Authorities are not providing adequate disposal facilities (back to the points I've been banging on about previously), people can't use them.

But, why is it that some people think it is OK to throw their litter onto the side of the road? Why don't they just leave it in their cars/vans/lorries (my money is on the latter two being the worst culprits) until they get to somewhere with a bin, or home?

I still challenge people who I see throwing litter out of vehicles, when I can, but, whereas years ago people mostly looked shamefaced at having been 'caught in the act', these days you invariably just get abuse.

What can be done?


Thursday, March 22, 2018

More plastics

The latest proclamation that there is something 'wrong' with plastics, and that to be using them is a sin, is, as ever with these things, leading to some short-term profiteering by companies making 'substitutes' that are just a joke.

One of the Patchy Ladies delightedly told me last week that I could "make a fortune" if I started making and selling cling-wrap substitute out of recycled fabric soaked in beeswax. "It's the latest thing," she said, it's all over Facebook!"

I was cross that one of the other non-social-media members jumped in before I could with, "A great reason to avoid it then!"

"What's wrong," I replied, "with putting a plate over the glass bowl containing whatever it is you want to cover? I'm unconvinced that the Environmental Health Department would support the use of such re-usable products. The bacterial count scares me just to think about it, and I don't have meat products in my fridge..."

Sort out the unnecessary packaging used by many supermarkets and mail-order companies, sort out the recycling so that everything plastic can be kept out of landfill, and the 'plastics problem' would be solved.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The problem with plastics

"Why," proclaimed Old Friend BW, "did it take a 91 year old man to get the world to wake up to the problem with plastics?"

A good question, I thought, when he first said it, some time early this year.

I now realise that he was wrong.

There isn't a problem with plastics.

Or rather, not a problem with essential plastics, per se.

The problem is with the disposal of plastics, and the over-use (and unnecessary use) of plastics.

For more than 20 years, China has taken a lot of the world's recycling. It has been transported there in the empty container ships that have brought in the consumer goods that have largely destroyed our manufacturing industries. From 1st January 2018, China has not been accepting waste plastics from other countries: which, considering that, in 2016, it imported 7.3m tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the US, and Japan, is bound to make a difference.

Since 2012, British recycling companies have shipped more than 2.7m tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong: that is, 500,000 tonnes a year, according to recent data from Greenpeace.

In the UK, 13 million plastic bottles per day are thrown away (wherever 'away' is).

Has anyone thought that the problem of some of the plastics in the sea might be due to containers falling off ships during transportation to China, or due to China 'not being very careful' about how it stores, handles and disposes of plastic waste? And how have they been disposing of it anyway?

Plastic microbeads are invisible and easily banned (and probably quite easily replaced in products). Charging 5p per flimsy plastic shopping bag immediately changed shopping habits in this country, but, interestingly, not in South Africa, where there has been a charge since 2003: they have found that the effect was only short-term. 15 years on, we were the only people using our own bags in supermarkets during our recent trip, much to the amusement of other customers and cashiers. "Why you use that bag?" a cashier in a small supermarket asked me, as I waved away the plastic bags she was trying to hand me, and gestured to my cloth bags. "In the UK, they shoot us if we use plastic bags!" I said. It being South Africa, where the government is known for doing strange things, I think she believed me.

Now that China is not taking our plastic junk, how are we going to dispose of waste plastics in future?

Incinerating them is not the answer as incinerating plastic emits pollutants such as hydrogen chloride, dioxin and fine particulate matter; apparently, even when the chemicals are captured by industrial incinerators, there remains a risk to the environment and potentially human health.

Simon Ellin, Chief Executive of the UK Recycling Association, was on BBC Breakfast at the weekend, adding chaos to the 'what plastics can we recycle anyway?" confusion: he claimed that it was OK to recycle the film that comes on top of ready meals and plastic strawberry punnets. Our local councils seem to produce ever more leaflets (ie glossy paper then needing recycling) telling us not to. Meanwhile, I can remember such plastics being collected in Germany for recycling as long ago as the early 1990s.

As I said, at the beginning, the problem is not plastics per se, but rather the disposal of them.

Plastics can be very useful. Some items - for instances, syringe bodies - would be hard to make out of any other material. Yes, they used to be made out of glass and re-used, but glass is a hugely energy-inefficient product to produce, and recycle, and if put in landfill lasts indefinitely. Dairy products and drinks used to be sold in stoneware jars, but there are still thousands (millions) of them in existence (and oh so very 'vintage' these days, with price tags to match), and even more languishing in smashed pieces in ex-landfill sites and gardens.

What we need to be doing is finding better ways to deal with plastics at the end of their useful life, never throwing away something plastic that can be re-used (you should see my store, I'm already stock-piling just in case), and making much more of a fuss about plastic over-packaging by supermarkets and other retailers (complaining in person, in writing, and by not buying).

Oh - and - kudos to Ribena who now manufacture their own plastic bottles on-site in Gloucestershire, from plastic waste, as recently shown on Inside the Factory.

The 'plastics' issue is fast turning into the latest version of the 'diesel cars' issue: everyone agrees with the media that they are 'bad' and to be 'avoided' and 'got rid of' at all costs, and as soon as possible, without really thinking things through.

As ever, the consumer is being made to feel guilty for the path the manufacturers have taken, and the lack of forward planning by those responsible for waste disposal.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday question

How can it have been sunny and 18.9°C yesterday afternoon, and it's -2°C and snowing this morning?


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A lifetime of thoughts for the day

"Look up at the stars and not down at your feet.
Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.
Be curious."

- Professor Stephen Hawking

May your light shine on.