Mmm, someone’s calling

We’re travelling again, but not in the way that really inspires me. I’m typing this in the car (which has a nasty grating noise coming from its front-right wheel on braking …. mmm, must get that investigated) as we head off down to Surrey for me to spend a full-day with the school tomorrow conducting a 360 degree report. Thankfully we can stay at Mary’s, and we’re having supper tonight (on the way) with an old nursing pal of C’s. Should be fun. But, I think my point is that as I follow a small group of people on their blogs (currently in Spain, Spain, France and Morocco) I start to feel that I might have got my priorities wrong? Although, with Mrs Sun doing her thing over the weekend and now, at least we’re not overburdened with rainy gloom and slushy pavements,

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I forgot to mention we took Tuesday off and cycled into Bristol (8 miles each way) and this fab group were busking bluegrass as we ate our lunch

But, the idea of watching the sunset over the Portuguese Atlantic or listening to the slap and run of the Med tickling the sand and pebbles of the Costa del Expat, is very enticing. We have spent some time in Doris over the past week, sorting this and that, and she has a magnetic lure which whispers sweet somethings … along the lines of ‘You know you really don’t have to work at the school or support Jen. You can write to your heart’s content anywhere in the world. I’ve heard that southern Spain is particularly nice this time of year.’ It’s like an addiction. The bottle of booze calling from the back of the cupboard. Grrr.

We still have some things we want to do in Doris. First I’m determined to reseal all of the toplights and seams on her roof. I have bought both black and white sikaflex and, next week provided the forecast rain holds off, I shall be up there cleaning and gluing. Doubtless I will make a mess of it as sikaflex, which is the only external sealant and glue you should ever buy, will always find exposed skin, clothes and anything you really don’t want it to find. But it also does a good job on the thing you actually want to stick/seal.

We want to cover seats again. C has bought the necessary cloths from IKEA. We just need to get on with it.

And, and it’s a big and, I want to take out the 2500W inverter and super-fast battery charger and revert to her original set up. It’s complicated, but in short the super-fast battery charger charges lead-acid batteries far too quickly – and I can fix that. And the inverter has no off button, so when you plug her into the mains, should the system trip (which it does, every so often), the inverter kicks in and drains the batteries far more than you would wish. Now I’m not sure I’m up for this job, and I may need some help, but I’m pretty determined to do it.

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C made herself ‘dress one’ for our summer trip. Fab

Other than that we have been out a lot. Supper with pals last week, lunch out on Sunday with a school-family we know who have just, very sadly, lost their husband/dad (hence, I guess, my desire to travel again … none of us know how much time we have), and out to supper tonight and on Friday night with Army pals, Al and Annie. He’s been promoted and has taken a job in Riyadh where they lived earlier on when he was a senior bod in the embassy. Good. For him … and us. We really want to do Riyadh (and Abu Dabi).

That’s it, I think. All go here. It was lovely to see C’s sister at the weekend and, leaving aside global warming, it is fab to have the weather. Enjoy it whilst it lasts!

Mrs Sun has got her hat on

So, nothing about politics today.  Schtum. Zip. Not a dickie bird. Not that anyone is reading this as you’ve all left me. I don’t blame you.

However, I do have something … something I knocked up for an old army pal of mine I had coffee with on Friday. He runs ecovision systems, a forward-looking energy business that supports domestic and industrials. If you need solar panels, ground or air-source heat pumps, or a hassle-free boiler, he’s your man. If you mention me I might get a free beer when we next meet. Anyhow, the blog is about fitting (or not) solar panels to your house.

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could be the Canal du Midi

For the record we had C’s sister, Annie, down for the weekend which included a lovely walk along the Sharpness canal. If the weather stays like this, we might have to reconsider our plans to up-sticks and live on the Med? It’s a thought.

Be back mid-week. I hope you’re enjoying the weather, wherever you are.

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Domestic solar panels – a decision of conscience?

Do you remember Mr Barnard’s science lessons? No? The ones with volts and amps. And whats? No, sorry. Watts. Do you remember him explaining the difference between energy and power? I think he made a lame science joke about joules not being a fashion brand, but something much, much more important: energy, I think. And then we got round to batteries and direct current (and we licked a small battery and got a shock?). Then the stuff that comes out of the wall was … I remember now: alternating current. Which was flippin dangerous and, ‘no, Jimmy, don’t put your tongue anywhere near that’.

Now fast-forward and ask yourself the question, ‘should I put solar panels on my roof?’. It’s a sensible question. After all, the planet is in the oven and browning nicely. We’re losing 50% of our insects. I haven’t seen a hedgehog since I was twelve. The Arctic is melting and, as a result, the ‘mare’ in Weston-super-Mare is soon going to take on a whole new meaning. And energy costs are only likely to go up.

Right up to date, this week somebody with a brain in government has said that in six years’ time we shouldn’t be fitting new houses with gas – a carbon rich fuel. Electricity is the future; which we can steal from the wind. And, if we remember Mr Barnard’s class, solar panels push out electricity. Although, to add to the confusion, even that is not strictly true. You can get solar panels that heat up the stuff like they use in the back of your fridge which, in turn, warms water for your showers [you don’t take baths, of course, because it’s more eco-friendly to shower].

Good. Panels it is. They’re old technology so it’s not a though we’re hanging around for the faults to be ironed out. On, on.  

So, where do we start? Well, IKEA do them – seriously; they’re flat and they come in a pack.  So do tons of other companies. Get three quotes and make a decision?

Mmm, maybe. Let’s give it a bit of thought.

First, dispel any notion that solar panels are only effective in the Sahara. (Actually solar panels become less effective if they get very hot). If the sun is up, pointing at your roof – and even in cloud – your panels will generate electricity. On a sunny day, mid-summer, listening to Jeremy Vine, a half-decent set of panels would run most of the appliances in your house – at the same time.            

In winter, output will drop considerably. In January your system will likely be only 10% as efficient as the same panels in June. But they will give you something. Free electricity generated by Mrs Sun.

And let’s skip over: they’re bog-ugly; for most homes you do not need planning permission; and the collective view is that they neither add to, nor take away from the value of your home. Buying £5k’s worth of solar stuff is not going to add £5k to your the selling price of your castle. And let’s ignore whether your roof faces the sun (you really need a south or southwest aspect), whether it is at the ‘optimum pitch’, and whether your neighbour has planted a series of towering leylandii between your roof and the fiery furnace. We’ll assume all those things work on your favour.

And we’ll ignore government subsidies (feed-in-tariffs) which they pay you for fitting panels. Because, whilst as I pen this the subsidy currently adds up to around to a measly £150 a year, they are stopping at the end of March (2019).

Instead, we’ll go back to school. But not for long as it’s crazily complicated. Panels are pretty standard, although you pay for what you get. On average a single panel delivers around 330 watts (on the second Tuesday in June, at midday). That makes an average domestic series of twelve panels about 4 kilowatts, which is a lot of watts. But, in perspective that’s only about one-two-thousandth of the output of SIzewell B – and only on the second Tuesday in June at midday. The panels deliver their electricity in direct current – DC (24 volts), which needs to be inverted via a shiny box to alternating current – AC (240 volts – the kind not to lick), before it can run your kettle, or be fed back into the National Grid to be consumed by your neighbour’s Bose sound bar. Which is keeping you up at night. That conversion loses electricity, by the way. As does the length of the wires between the panels and the shiny box. It all makes a difference.

Most companies now offer a battery to store any spare electricity that your appliances don’t use when the sun’s out. They do this so you can use that spare power to watch Midsomer Murders when the sun has gone to bed. Which is fun, although it’s not without a cost – a medium-sized battery will set you back about £2,000. Batteries are classified in kilowatt hours (kWh) – why?, they store in direct current which needs to be inverted to alternating current before you turn on your smoothie maker. But, and it’s a big but, a ‘normal’ set of panels will fill a ‘normal’-sized battery in the summer. Which is when you’re at Butlins. In the winter, when your washing machine is working overtime to clean the dog and Mrs Sun is away browning the knees of the lovely people of Rio de Janeiro, your battery will not be filled.

However, batteries are not all bad. They will save you a bit of cash and some companies will pay to steal your excess battery power/storage to contribute to a local grid, which they share … and all of a sudden you’re part of a joined-up operation that’s going out of its way to save the whales. Well done you!

Watts, kilowatts, kilowatt hours, direct current, alternating current?

Confused?

You have my sympathy.

And that’s before Mr Sales-Based-On-Commission sends you all the specifications and associated charts and graphs. There’ll be a projected cost-benefit chart which will tell you that, assuming the sun doesn’t burn out, your system will pay for itself in about twelve years’ time. At which point you’ll be laughing all the way to the cashpoint, whilst planning your around-the-world cruise.

Mmm. At fifty-seven, in twelve years’ time I might not be able to make it up the gangplank. And/or, more likely, I’ll have moved and will not have asked Whites to rip the panels off my roof and somehow or other, fix them to the thatched cottage I’ve bought in the country. Notably, a few years later the panels will need replacing (after 20 years they can lose around 50% of their efficiency) and the shiny-box inverter, which has a life of around ten years, will have been replaced, delaying your trip on The Sea of Indulgence by at least a year.

Phew. So much information.

So, why bother? Why spend around £5,500 for a ‘standard’ twelve-panel array (£7,000 with a battery), which only works in the summer and will not have paid for itself before you’re in a nursing home?

Good question.

Because.

Because, and I have been very conservative with my figures, a small town of 5,000 houses each fitted with a 4 kW array and a 3 kWh battery would have the same power output as a nuclear power station. And, when it’s snowing outside, if you fill your battery from the national grid with low-cost electricity overnight (aka Economy 7) – which is getting easier and easier to do – those numbers improve.

Now, let’s mandate that, shall we? Let’s make it the law – maybe handing out new subsidies to make it happen.

There are 27 million households in the UK. If we fit just 5 million of them with a standard set of panels, the total average output would be in the order of 5 gigawatts (that’s 5,000,000 kilowatts – a flippin helluva lot of watts), with a further 11 gigawatts of storage capacity. Cost? Around £25 billion.  

How many power stations is that? Power stations come in many shapes and sizes, but if we assume that a really big station generates 500 megawatts, our panels would deliver ten really big power stations’ worth. And at £4 billion a pop for a new power station, that’s a saving of £15 billion. Which is a lot of billions.

So. In summary.

The good news for you is the cost of solar panels has halved in ten years. The bad news is the sun hasn’t got any hotter and government subsidies have run out. The result is you will not reap the financial benefits of fitting panels to your roof any time soon. And your neighbours will laugh at how ugly your house has become.

But. You will be making a difference. When burning the toast we will all use a little less gas, burn a little less coal and, if a lot of us do it, deplete a little less uranium.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll see a hedgehog in your back garden before you die.      

 

Politics … I wish it were quieter

I know that most of you will have had enough of my political meanderings but, let’s face it, there’s a lot of it about at the mo.

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a picture of a local flower before I bore you with politics

Shamima Berum. Now there’s a story. What I don’t get is the press reporting that the public don’t want her back in the UK, and that Sajid Javid has bowed to popular opinion by removing her citizenship. Well, no offence all of you, but that’s not my opinion. And I reckon I’m not alone. And it’s not about the fact that us snowflaking liberals think she deserves a second chance. Or that, like a Nazi wife, if she’s not pulled a trigger she shouldn’t be held to the same set of rules as their really unpleasant husbands. I’m clear …  she deserves to be subject to the full force of the law and dealt with accordingly.

It’s not about that. It’s about two much more important things.

First, she’s ours. and we are a grown up country (tee-hee, looking at Brexit …). By banishing her to the third poorest country in the world, Bangladesh, we’re passing a buck which should not be passed. Who do we think we are? ‘You have her! We don’t want her.’ Well, sorry, but that’s neither fair, nor what a first-world country should do.

Second, what message are we sending to the almost-radicalised? What about her family and friends in the UK? And the extended ex-Bangladeshis in and around the country? What are they now thinking? I’ll tell you what they’re thinking. ‘My country doesn’t like Muslims. This is how they treat our sister. A woman with a child.’ I know I overstate this here, but the rule of thumb is for every terrorist you kill, you spawn five more. Not bringing Shamima Berum home is sending all the wrong messages and encouraging radicalisation.

As for her poor child. It’s not the kid’s fault. And if it grows up to be a nomadic Islamist, I’m pretty sure it will not look kindly on its nation.

And all because the right-wing xenophobes are shouting the loudest. Shame.

Moving on, and briefly staying on politics. I don’t know what the eleven independents stand for, but I’m voting for them. The choice appears to be the caricatures of Johnson, Rees-Mogg and Corbyn … all of whom have agendas to which I cannot subscribe. Or a new grouping which finds the middle ground. I reckon the eleven will soon be twelve … and then there may be a tipping point. We’ll see.

On, on.

We had a lovely walk on Sunday at the Newport Wetlands and then popped and saw an old army pal of ours, Daren (his wife was working locally). Daren is a few years behind us … and is just a couple of years away from pushing off into the sunset in their Hymer. They’re v excited, a feeling I remember well. Between now and then they have a number of trips planned. Today, for example, they’re heading to the Alps skiing in her! We’ve never skied from a van and it took monumental effort not to say ‘sod it’, load the van and follow them south.

This week has been a day at a school, two days with Jen and today, a day pottering around in the summer sunshine (that what it feels like). We’ve laid some grass seed down in the back garden, cleaned the car and I did some work in Doris … just messing.

C’s sister, Annie, is down tomorrow for the weekend, which will be nice.

Oh. And we’ve had a flirtation with solar panels on the roof. I’ve had a couple of quotes, including fitting a battery to store excess sunshine. The cost is between £5 and 7.5k, which would save us in the order of £350 a year in electricity. The maths doesn’t make sense (pay back takes as long as 15 years), so any decision would be about spending some money for the benefit of the world, which is not a bad reason, but … it’s a lot of thousands of pounds. No decision yet.

Have a great end of week.

We’re heading for the hills

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of The House of Commons, tweeted on Friday that the students/children who were not in school, protesting about climate change where, and I quote, ‘it’s called truancy, not a strike’.

Now just reflect for a second, Andrea. Just imagine what your government could have done with the billions of pounds they have spent on Brexit in the past two and a bit years and spent that on climate change instead. Let’s do some maths. We’re looking at having solar panels and a 3kW home battery fitted. The quoted cost is £8k. The government has spent/is spending £4 billion on Brexit, half of which is assigned to contingencies in case there is a no deal – something that Theresa May could rule out in a single sentence.

I’m getting my calculator out. £4 billion divided by £8k is … 500,000 homes. That’s 1,500 megawatts of home-grown electricity. That’s three nuclear power stations of roof-mounted electricity … and goodness knows how many jobs created. And, of course, with that sort of spending power the government could cut the price in half and put up a million houses’ worth.

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a per pros nothing, I’m thinking of using my newly found sewing skills to make myself some trousers!

So, Andrea. Leaving aside that this week we found out that we’re losing half of the world’s insects which is going to do all sorts of nasty things to the world. And, by the way, along with fuel price hikes, Fly Bmi has gone into immediate administration because Brexit has reduced their participation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and Brexit uncertainty has limited their ability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe. Brits stuck abroad will eventually get home, but Bmi’s 376 employees might not be able to afford a holiday this year.

So, kids, I say strike! OK, do it safely and with the full knowledge of your parents or guardians. But strike away. Somebody has got to shake the establishment, because us adults are not doing a great job.

Ho hum.

Oh … and did you hear His Trumpfulness in the Rose Garden? ‘I didn’t have to do this. I just wanted to do it quicker …’ (… declare a national emergency to appropriate funds from the defence budget to build the wall that Mexico was going to pay for.) I’m not sure about you, but hey, I think if you ‘don’t have to do it’, its not a national emergency? But, what do I know?

The world is spinning out of control and we have a set of people in charge so blinded by their ambition that they can’t turn their heads. Yesterday C was talking about buying a small holding somewhere out of the way and making it self-sufficient, ‘so our kids have somewhere to feel safe’. Our generation used to feel like that thirty years ago when we were facing nuclear destruction at the hands of the Soviet hoards. Now, we fear our own destructive governments. Where’s my pitchfork? I’d join a rebellion.

For the record, we’ve had a relaxing three days. C’s made some bandanas, I’ve been working on Doris and getting close to finishing edit two of book 5. Just in case you have the same problem, I’ve forever been having difficulty getting the key to work in Doris’s driver’s door. Yesterday I went to town with plenty of oil, but nothing seemed to work. And then I had a thought. What if it’s the key? Hey presto … I picked out one of the three spare habitation keys and it worked perfectly. Clearly over nine years the main key had worn and was no longer fitting properly. Simples!

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and I fitted a new grille to the Focus. Hurrah!

Finally we’re off out today for a walk and a picnic. I think we might pop into Wales, now that the bridge is free. I’ll let you know how it goes on Wednesday. By for now.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s day. I’m sure there should be an apostrophe in there, but in today’s loose use of grammar Google isn’t so sure. Anyway, happy Valentine’s day to you all and especially C. I think the best thing I could say about my long-suffering wife is to lift a quote from a lady we had supper with last week. She said to me, ‘You’re very lucky to have found someone who’s prepared to live the bohemian life.’ And she’s absolutely right. If I look around at my pals and their wives (all of whom we both love), I pretty sure none of the girls would have married me. More pertinent, if their husbands had said a couple of years ago, ‘Come on, dear, let’s give everything up and push off into the sunset in a cloud of unburnt diesel’, they’d have suggested a trip to the neurosurgeon.

I love you Claire. And thanks for accepting a stranger and left field approach to life which restricts us in some ways, but expands our horizons in so many others. It’s been a blast and continues to be so.

For the record. Tuesday was an awful day. I worked from home. But our new Janome sewing machine didn’t. After last week when it kept hitting the backplate in reverse, Tuesday morning it kept missing stitches, again in reverse. And, no matter what I did, it kept missing stitches and ‘birdnesting’ under the webbing.

I went for a run at lunchtime … which is still going well (every second day, religiously), had some lunch, went back to work and, hey presto, the machine worked fine. How does that happen? I hadn’t changed anything. I wasn’t doing anything different? Grrrrrrr.

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£35 to you sir

Better yesterday at Jen’s. We are producing some really different stuff in some great colours. Orders are steady, which is good in that I’m not having to push too hard. The woman who helps us out has produced a couple of dog blankets – using our design and our materials. She is a brilliant seamstress and I hope the photo does her work justice. The one in the picture is for sale (with your dog’s name) for £35, which I think is a really good price for something that is handmade and takes 2.5 hours to make.

You might like to pop to our new website: Cubblys

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my new helper

I’m not back at Jen’s until Tuesday (Monday I’m at the school for a one-to-one with one of the deputies) and we have nothing in the calendar until then. I’ve got some jobs to do on Doris and I’m 2/3’s of the way through edit 2 of book 5. I am loving it, I have to say. Once I’ve finished the edit I’ll drop it into Word (currently it’s chapter-by-chapter on GoogleDocs) and do a full spelling and grammar check. And then, hold your breath, it’s off to my 6 beta readers. That’s the scary part!

Anyhow. Happy Valentine’s day, with or without an apostrophe.

Hello LA!

I have an ‘in’. When we were at Mary’s we met a lady whose son is the CEO of a TV company in LA (which stands for Los Angeles, in case you’re not sure). She’s given me his address and an introduction. As a result, along with the five enquiries I sent out last weekend, I shall dispatch Unsuspecting Hero’s screenplay to the world-centre of film and TV in the next day or so. Fingers crossed.

And I’m half way through edit 2 of book 5, and really loving it. Editing takes some effort – it’s about making sure every sentence is as clear and descriptive as it can be. I can’t say I’m an expert, and indeed if I had an agent/publisher they’d be paying a professional to do it for me, but I do know what I like … and what I think works. It’s important not to confuse editing with proofreading. The first sorts out consistency, plot holes, over and underwriting, and some of the language. Proofreading looks at spelling and grammar. And I am rubbish at the latter … and I do have to pay an expert to do that for me.

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We got back from Mum and Dad’s at lunchtime – it’s a 3.5 hour journey and it drives me mad (A12, M25, M4). But it’s worth the effort. I thought that, whilst Dad continues to deteriorate, Mum was in a much better place than last time we saw her. I took Dad for a walk whilst C took Mum shopping, and then we attempted a bath. Unfortunately, no amount of balancing and heaving could get his leg over the side of the bath. So we had a strip wash instead. What disturbed me was, after supper, Dad started trying to explain something. We think it was about a man who was trying to do something unpleasant to all of us. Dad unsteadily got himself out of his chair, paced a bit with real frustration, bordering on anger. Then he sat down again, half went to sleep for a  few seconds, and then gingerly stood again and vented. We had no idea what he was worried about. It was disquieting to see him so upset. Eventually he went to bed.

Ho hum.

We’ve got a pretty quiet week this week. I’m on 3/4 days sewing duties, but the weekend is free. My old boss from my first school emailed me and asked me if I wanted some teaching as they had a temporary gap over the coming weeks. I know that I really didn’t have a great time last year at the state school, but teaching (rather than crowd control) with some A-level work at a private school is a much different occupation. And I so wanted to to say yes. Alas, other commitments … etc.

Anyhow, enough from me. Have a great week.

 

 

There’s a special place in hell …

Of course there is. And, if you’re a snowflake of a Brexiteer you can pervert Donald Tusk’s statement to say that he said that about all of you wonderful people who voted to leave.

He.

Didn’t.

He said there was a special place in hell for hard Brexiteers who voted to leave without a plan as to how to pull it off. And he’s right. No plan = chaos, a possible slip into recession, the loss of many many jobs, food shortages, did I mention chaos, shortages of medicine, etc, etc? So … there’s a special place in hell for those of you who are more than happy that we break away from the best customs union we could belong to without a sensible plan to replace it.

We had a chat to C’s cousin, Eva, the other day. Apparently because their grandfather is Irish they may be able to apply to become Irish citizens. Good. The question is can I get a passport too if I’m married to an Irishwoman? She has the hair and the temperament for it, so I deserve some recompense …

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doing my bit for the British economy

I’ve just had a long day at my school in Farnham (a 7.30 start). And I made a load of leads and collars on Wednesday morning for Cubblys – and I shall make some more stuff tomorrow (we’re at Mary’s at the mo). It has been busy.

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on the way home from Farnham today

The consultancy stuff is fun. I saw eight folk today, of varying ranks and specialities. For my part it’s mostly listening, and offering bits of advice here and there. I don’t charge a great deal, but it’s not bad for a day’s work … and I do come away with a feeling that I am making a bit of a difference.  I have more work this month (a 360 degree appraisal for a deputy) and another full day clinic in April, so it’s all keeping me in a bit of beer money (which I use to pay off the mortgage!).

Anyhow, now that I’ve got the Brexit thing off my chest I feel a little better. I could go on about His Donaldness and the SOTU (State of the Union). But instead I’ll let you know that I have 5 beta readers lined up to look over book 5, which I should have ready by the end of the month. When it’s away being read I shall write the blurb and have a go at the cover.

Hurrah from me!