Thursday, January 19, 2017
This month's official figures on the economy have been published. I always try to read my information first hand, so as soon as Radio 4 News informs me of "new government figures", I go straight to the relevant section of the ONS website. The headline figures bandied about by 'the media' often don't tell the whole story. I often find the debt charities websites a good source for headline figures without crass comment.
In the last week there have been 'media reports' that credit card debt is the worst it has ever been. Things are getting a tiddly bit out of control on that front again. Total credit card debt in November 2016 was £66.7bn. Online articles claim that, per household, this is £2,469, but I don't think those figures add up...
I'm afraid that we are contributing mightily to this total at the moment. Far far too many credit card companies are throwing 0% balance transfer and money transfer offers around again (some with no fee, as they did back in the good old days over a decade ago when we cleared our mortgage and made thousands of pounds by stoozing).
Rather than cash-in ISAs early to fund our new house purchase (and so lose up to a year's interest and also the future tax-free interest status of the money) I have said 'Yes please!' to all and any offers that have come our way. And there have been more than I've ever seen. Other retired people I know report a similar situation.
I have also taken advantage of all offers of new credit cards (with up to 40 months 0% interest on purchases) so we will be able to fund much of the renovation and extension work we need to do without crashing money we have in fixed-rate products. By the time we need to repay the money, we will have the money from the sale of our house here (or, worst case scenario, we then have to crash the savings products we have and pay the loss of interest cost).
If I added up all the unsecured debt we currently have available to us at the swipe of a plastic card, it would be somewhere over ten times our current total annual income.
All of which is wonderful.
And while we are living between two houses, as we have a house in the south-east, it is increasing in value hugely every day. In fact, probably more than we could ever spend each day on building work (particularly as we will be doing much of it ourselves).
Which is also wonderful (especially as, in future, when we have only one house in the north-east, its increase in value isn't going to keep up with house price growth in other areas).
Wonderful, except that I am only too aware that the people who are funding our little venture are not the banks.
It is the people who are paying the exorbitant and extortionate rates of interest, and charges/fees to the banks, because, for whatever reason, they are unable to make the system work for them.
But - and here is the dilemma - if I didn't take advantage of this situation, will it affect how the people who are being screwed over by the banks are treated? No. Will it affect them as individuals? No.
So, I shall continue to help people individually with their money problems when I can (practical help not financial - the old 'teach a man to fish' thing), and I shall continue to review my sheaf of papers covered in my scrawlings, telling me exactly what to repay and when (or rather, what is coming from where, and when, as it's all set up on direct debit so happens magically), and Mr BW will continue to peruse his spreadsheet to keep an overview of everything.
This is a situation that I'm not comfortable with, but one in which whatever I do won't make a blind bit of difference to the bigger picture.
Capitalism. Learn the game, play the game, or lose out.
But also be ready for its collapse.
Friday, January 13, 2017
And il did carry on neigeing, at least a little bit.
And then the skies cleared, and the full moon on the snow was perfect - shadows and everything - this was the parterre in the middle of the night:
I had to keep waking up to take photos, because this might just be our last snow here ever.
Then it did freezing, and now there are even more snow flurries. Not a great day for a trip out, but our lunch date has already been cancelled twice.
The view from the Inner Coven just after dawn:
I'll miss this view, but the next one is even better. Not least because there are hills. Lots of hills. And sheep.
10 weeks yesterday since we unexpectedly found it, and we are effectively cash buyers and there is no onward chain: indeed the vendor is currently in the house with just a bed and a TV (no carpets left) waiting for the solicitors to get their act together. Our agreed completion date sped by, the second is about to go the same way, and if the third doesn't happen, heads will be rolling.
We (happily) have the pickiest solicitor in the world (he's a friend from school days and saved our move here - nearly 22 years ago - when all was falling apart) and they have the laziest, who seem unable to draft contracts in an acceptable legal format (they weren't even acceptable to us and we are not lawyers!).
The reason for all this messing about? Our solicitor is being paid by the job, theirs are being paid by the hour (there are three sets due to a divorce and us buying extra land from the farm, which is currently unregistered title, from another member of their family). Theirs communicate by letter, despite two of the three occupying offices that are literally next door to each other in the same street (in fact, I think they sit about 6 feet away from each other with just a dividing wall between them). I had no idea that northern solicitors still do conveyancing work by the hour and use Royal Mail until we started on this project...
At least we're not trying to move out of here for a while. Frankly, I am amazed that anyone actually ever manages to move when there are multiple houses involved. It's bad enough with just one purchase. Why do solicitors make it so difficult? Is it greed - trying to work on too many jobs at once?
Anyone want to buy a Coven (in a year or so's time?).
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Well, I was wrong. I thought that we wouldn't get snow as it was 7°C this morning, and it was raining rather heavily for much of the afternoon.
But, at 5pm it started to snow, and it has settled a bit. This view from the balcony - and it's dark outside, so blame the camera's low light setting.
It had better melt by tomorrow because we have Important Things To Do. People to see, light fittings to source. Mind you, it might be quite pretty by the light of the nearly-full moon later (give or take a few clouds).
The County Council have their emergency plan in force down by the coast, in preparation for flooding expected tomorrow lunchtime, and, according to Radio 4 news just now, are trying to get people to go and sleep in a school in readiness. Unsurprisingly, there is no-one there other than journalists.
Any sign of snow where you are?
Friday, January 6, 2017
The Ladybird Book of EduTwitter
Anyone who has ever worked in (or with) education in the UK might enjoy this.
(Background here - but read this after you've looked at the first link and tried to guess the origins.)
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Thought for the year ahead
"Bullshit is something that is constructed absent of any concern for the truth.
This is quite different from lying, which implies a deep concern for the truth (namely, its subversion).
Bullshit is particularly pernicious since the bullshitter adopts an epistemic stance that allows for a great deal of agility.
For the bullshitter, it doesn’t really matter if he is right or wrong. What matters is that you’re paying attention....
Bullshit is much harder to detect when we want to agree with it.
The first and most important step is to recognise the limits of our own cognition. We must be humble about our ability to justify our own beliefs. These are the keys to adopting a critical mindset – which is our only hope in a world so full of bullshit."
Sunday, January 1, 2017
A Happier New Year...
... to everyone reading.
I am constantly amazed by the number of readers from 'the good old days of blogging' who still pop in sometimes, and it's good to still be in touch with some of you (however infrequently), and to have seen some of you in person again during the last year.
If 2016 demonstrated anything, it is how easy it is for individals and groups to pose as competent when they aren't, and how easy it is to get people to believe whatever you say if it is prettily/radically packaged and marketed, and freely spun out and embellished/slanted by 'social media'.
'Group think' is a dangerous beast, and is frequently led by the best orators (or, these days, 'communicators') and not the best ideas or evidence. Morals and values are frequently hidden behind personal narcissim and/or blind/misdirected ambition.
May this next year protect us all, personally and collectively, from these people, groups, and products, and give us the wisdom to see through the untruths, fake claims and promises.
Simplify, and look to the past for the answers. It's called 'the wisdom of ages' for a reason.
Monday, December 26, 2016
25th December 2016
All is not well with the world... (as if we didn't already know that).
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Whatever your beliefs, and whatever you are celebrating.
My FOTCR™ message (it seems every politician thinks they are the Queen this year, so why should I miss out?) is one I have posted before:
Especially poignant in a week when I had one seven year old girl tell me that she didn't know, so couldn't count, coins below a pound because, "I only get pound coins, or more often notes. I'm great at counting twenty pound notes!" and another girl of six tell me that the tinsel extensions in her hair had cost £50, "But my mum and big sister had them so I whined a bit until mum gave in and let me have them too."
It seems that Bart Simpson was right when he said,
"Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of this day - the birth of Santa?"
It's been a strange year: we lost six friends in the six weeks between mid October and the end of November, so are thinking of their loved ones too.
Enjoy your festivities.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
It's my WitchDay.
Considering that we have lately been hacking up and down the A1(M), and up, down, along, and across other roads of this country, at a rate not seen since I did my professional training in 1988/89 (when I did 28,000 miles between September and June), I have spent the day flopped out in bed, latterly with fizzy wine and cranberry juice 'cocktails' (utterly delicious, but could be improved by using fresh cranberry juice methinks - must liquidise and sieve/filter fresh berries, and try soon) and hot spiced raw cashews.
Which is just as well as it has been cold miserable and damp here today.
Grief I'm exhausted.
Now, would anyone like to hazard a guess about this (size - fits easily in my hand)? Mr BW tells me it's the latest part in my long-term project which has something to do with a very large old red project that didn't happen 10 years ago, but now (soon, if some northern solicitor ever gets his finger out of his ****) could.
Mr BW loves the 'Now' album series. I love the 70s. He got me this. But there is something badly wrong with it, that the 20 year old graphic artist who did the cover wouldn't understand. Can you spot it?
And, for goodness sake 'Now' people, if someone buys a 70s CD they are likely to be of a generation that expects a nice tactile paper booklet of track information, not an instruction to look it up online. So near and yet so far.
But the music's OK... and given that lots of our other CDs (the majority of a certain late 80s/early 90s vintage) appear to be suffering from SCDDS (Sudden CD Death Syndrome), a few new tracks for the ongoing for the foreseeable future long car journeys are extremely useful.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
It looks like it is robots rather than Luddites who will destroy capitalism:
Fascinating article here about how analysts at global investment manager Bernstein believe that China's huge investment in robotics means that "the age of industrialization is coming to an end," with robots set to destroy manufacturing jobs globally.
Whatever happend to innovative manufacturing the UK?
My Dad engineered the first blister-pack tablet machine in this country back in the late 60s/early 70s (sadly he was working for an employer or he'd have - potentially, if correctly patented - been a multi-millionaire). He must be turning in his grave now...
Sunday, December 4, 2016
*Looks out of window*
Hmmm, so Santa has hidden his reindeer in the field behind us...
Good choice Santa, overseen by a non-meat eating, FOTCR™ hating, anti-hunting Witchy...
Some fairly odd stuff going on here too...
Monday, November 28, 2016
Things you didn't know you didn't know
There are some things that, once you know them, you wonder how you can not have known them before, and, how you ever managed before you knew them.
Simple things usually.
I can't think of any examples at the moment other than the one I discovered yesterday. The worst thing is, I can't even remember now where I discovered it.
If you need to line a cake tin or grill pan with aluminium foil, don't struggle to push it into the corners (often tearing it in the process), simply turn the tin over and mould the foil over the outside. Then, remove it and reposition it inside the tin.
Of course, I might be the only one in the world who didn't already know that, or have worked it out for themself...
Friday, November 25, 2016
I am convinced that if there was a 'sales event' called 'White Friday' there would be an ourcry by the PC brigade.
The BBC informed us this morning that it was only six years ago, in 2010, that Amazon bought this selling madness to our shores.
I've had well over two hundred emails form various companies over the past few days about this consumerfest. How many have I opened? One, and it did not contain the bargain that was headlined.
I am not amused.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
...to all readers in Trumpton.
"Bush, Bush, Obama, Ford, Clinton, Reagan, Trump."
Now, who's playing Captain Flack?
I'm sure someone else must have thought of this, but I've not seen it.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Power in the darkness
Frightening lies from the other side
Power in the darkness
Stand up and fight for your rights
Freedom... we're talking bout your freedom
Freedom to choose what you do with your body
Freedom to believe what you like
Freedom for brothers to love one another
Freedom for black and white
Freedom from harassment, intimidation
Freedom for the mother and wife
Freedom from Big Brother's interrogation
Freedom to live your own life... I'm talking 'bout
Power in the darkness
Frightening lies from the other side
Power in the darkness
Stand up and fight for your rights
[Voice from The Other Side:] "Today, institutions fundamental to the British system of Government are under attack: the public schools, the house of Lords, the Church of England, the holy institution of Marriage, even our magnificent police force are no longer safe from those who would undermine our society, and it's about time we said 'enough is enough' and saw a return to the traditional British values of discipline, obedience, morality and freedom.
What we want is:
Freedom from the reds and the blacks and the criminals
Prostitutes, pansies and punks
Football hooligans, juvenile delinquents
Lesbians and left wing scum
Freedom from the niggers and the Pakis and the unions
Freedom from the Gipsies and the Jews
Freedom from leftwing layabouts and liberals
Freedom from the likes of you..."
Power in the darkness
Frightening lies from the other side
Power in the darkness
Stand up and fight for your rights
And, erm, this was 1978. 38 years ago..
Listen for free here.
Thought for the day
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
Monday, November 21, 2016
Here's a bargain I've mentioned before...
I've mentioned the 'free tea for two' at National Trust property vouchers with greetings cards from Pink and Greene before. Excellent value, pretty, multi-purpose cards, and up to four quid's worth of free teas per card into the bargain.
Pink and Greene's are again doing a £5 off £10 minimum spend offer. If you pick the correct cards from here, by using the code 'ADVENT' in the discount box, you can get 8 nice greetings cards cards for £11.48 (£1.44 each; choose a 3-pack plus a 5-pack for the best value), plus free delivery, and up to £32 (depending on local venue pricing) worth of free tea vouchers. Throw the cards away, or give them to your local charity shop if you don't like them, and you've still got 16 cups of free tea for £11.48!
This discount is available to all, including existing customers.
And, it doesn't have to be used on these cards, you can use it on any (but, no free cups of tea with others, obviously).
Be quick though: the offer closes at midnight tonight.
Instructions for obtaining your discount:
1. At our website, www.pinkandgreene.com, add goods to your basket so that the total exceeds £10 after the discount is applied and excluding any postage charges.
2. Go to Checkout (click next to the basket symbol at the top of the page). Type ADVENT into the voucher code box and click the 'Apply' button. A £5 discount will be applied.
Note that the code will not be valid if the order value - after the discount - is less than £10. Only one code can be applied per order.
3. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete your payment.
Terms and conditions of this offer:
The code ADVENT applies a £5 discount to orders submitted by midnight on 21/11/16 with a minimum value (post discount) of £10 excluding delivery charges. The code may be used once per customer or residential address. Free delivery for orders of £10 or more to UK addresses only. Only one discount code may be applied per order.
As ever, this is not a sponsored post, it's just a good deal that I thought I'd pass on, in case anyone is interested.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
An Autumn Tale
Next Thursday, it's twenty-five years since Freddie Mercury died (and his mum died a week ago today at 94) .
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain
This week I seem to have developed a rather unexpected and unhealthy interest in white vans, and shipping containers. Up until this last fortnight my only interest in white vans was getting away from them as quickly as possible. Now I spend my time peering at the names on the back and peering in the cabs.
Such is life.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Despite it being 19 months since Mr BW retired, he still likes Dilbert.
He keeps the page-a-day calendar in his workshop, and occasionally brings a few pages in for my amusement.
These two made me smile (apologies for the poor scan quality):
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
For Mr Mog, and Ambermoggie
Please think of them both at 11am this morning.
All our love Ambermoggie.
Friday, November 11, 2016
White poppy day
LaP has been posting about the situation across the Atlantic (I refuse to call it a 'pond').
I'm re-posting my comment to her post, which first quoted from another earlier comment to her blog post:
" I blame a lot of the hysteria right now on an out of control media who slanted coverage, was proud of thinking they could determine the next President and forgot they were supposedly journalists. Instead of covering both sides' failures, they only hit on his. I doubt they have learned a thing from it either. I am madder at them than the voters who supposedly voted 'wrong' or the candidates, who were both flawed."
I totally agree with Rain. [the above commentator]
It was the media who swung and slanted it, as it almost always is these days.
But, you [Americans] do now have the world's first leader chosen by 'reality TV'.
That said, in my professional experience, I've often found that once control freak bullies actually get to be in charge, they have the power and influence they crave and start being quite sensible.
Not holding my breath on this occasion mind, but, it's a thought.
I have a friend who told me that her husband is currently looking to buy shares in a brick making company somewhere along the Mexican border. And I'm not sure that he is joking either.
I'm trying not to appear smug at having correctly predicted the outcome. But I do have an American friend (she's lived here for 30 years, but goes home for 6 weeks a year to see her family) who filled me in, over several whole-day outings over the summer, in glorious detail, about the vagaries and workings of the US election system. Oh, and, the Clinton's shady, hushed up by questionnable legal methods, business dealings too.
The world is going to be an interesting place in the next months and years."
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Tuesday 8th November 2016
Yesterday the American people, and the BWs, both made momentous decisions that will totally and irrevocably change the courses of their future lives.
Gosh, there might be something worthwhile to blog about again... :)
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Thought for the day
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
- Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) in Fight Club (1999)
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
It may be chilly and autumnal, the news from the world may be grim (and likely to get grimmer), but at The Coven the colours are fighting back:
Final score for Days of Summer, by the BW Definition (ie days with blue skies, hot and sunny, and above 26°C/80°F): 26 and a quarter.
A record-breaking year, for years of late, although most of it was in August and September.
Friday, October 7, 2016
Darkening days need creativity
I've been making a sheep cushion for our Northumbrian farmer friend, who we'll be seeing again in a few weeks, as is normal for us at this time of year.
The brownish colour is from a special (to him) sheep's fleece. I've processed the fibre from raw, including washing, carding, spinning, and knitting, and I designed it on (special, knitters') graph paper first, using specific stitches to generate texture to represent the environs of the farm.
It's a bad photo, but, top left is fir trees, top right is a huge old oak tree; middle ground left is drystone wall and then running across the centre to the right is a wooden posted fence; the near-ground is scrubland and reedy grass.
It probably took around 50 hours from fleece to product. He won't know or appreciate it, and I fully expect one of the sheep dogs to destroy it within minutes after he puts it in his mobile home 'office'.
I don't care, it's all about the process, and the meanings, for me.
I may make another for me, with a dark blue background (I've been processing some beautiful Jacob shearling that was given to me, on the lawn in the wonderful golden autumnal sun this week, and now just need to dye, card and spin it). Have I ever mentioned how much I hate brown?
Monday, October 3, 2016
Did you know?
If a company such as your electricity supplier, or your local council, pass your telephone number to a registered market research company, there is nothing you can do to get it off the Market Research Society's main database?
Once on there, it can (I am told by the MRS) only be removed by the organisation that asked the company to conduct the research, and there is no guarantee that the MRS-registered company to whom it was given to conduct a 'customer experience survey' hasn't already passed it on to all and sundry, provided that they too are registered with the MRS.
The fact that you have never agreed for your details to be passed on for such use, and are ex-directory and registered with the Telephone Preference Service apparently does not protect you from such calls.
I currently have formal complaints in with my ex-electricity supplier, and with my district council, relating to calls made to me within the last week on their behalf (and I've checked out, they really were acting on behalf of who they claimed). A new 'cheap' form of market research perhaps? Above all, I am disgusted that my local council is spending scant/declining resources in such ways, while also cutting many services.
I just got another call, at after 9pm (a time when I would normally be asleep, and at which I would not ring a friend or family member, unless it was an emergency) from a young woman from a market research company purporting to be from 'my bank' (not specified unless I confirmed I was the person to whom they wished to speak).
Bored with my usual repertoire of tactics for nusiance callers, I employed a new one, as suggested by one of Mr BW's (slightly eccentric) friends. Viz:
Me: "Oooh, you sound nice!"
Me: "You sound really nice. Lovely in fact! Y'know, all lovely and sexy!""
Me: "You sound lovely. I'm a bit lonely. Would you like to be my new girlfriend?"
Me: "You know, be my new girlfriend, kiss me, cuddle me, send me rude text messages, have sex with me, and well, y'know, other stuff..."
Them: "BLOODY HELL, WEIRDO...." *line goes dead*
I can see that there will be a lot more fun to be had from that tactic... ;)
Are others of you getting this new type of nuisance call?
I am unconvinced that utility companies and local councils are allowed to pass on one's personal details for such purposes without consent, and fully intend to take this issue to the Information Commissioner (once I have gone through the normal complaints procedure of the organisations in question, as required by the ICO) as I believe that such disclosure of data contravenes the Data Protection Act, but, who knows, these days?
Friday, September 30, 2016
Ketchup, catch up, but we can't make ketchup because the tomatoes are still ripening slowly after the early potato and tomato blight wiped the lot out. Smith periods, who's heard of them? We hadn't until this year. If you are disinclined to click the link, Smith Periods are when blight is likey to strike:
"A ‘Full Smith Period’ occurs when the following criteria are met on 2 consecutive days:-
Minimum air temperatures are at least 10°C
Relative Humidity is 90% or above for at least 11 hours
A ‘Half Smith Period’ occurs when the Full Smith Period criteria are met for 1 day.
A ‘Near Miss’ occurs when minimum air temperatures are at least 10°C for 2 consecutive days but the number of hours with a relative humidity of greater than 90% only totals 10 hours on one or both days."
Rosetta is dead. Long live Rosetta (and the data on Comet 67P they have will take decades to fully analyse, so god squaddies can continue to believe for a while longer). I'm particularly sad because the company MrBW used to work for made the imaging sensors (that have performed even beyond best expectations).
I'm amused by the Deutsche Bank Debacle (Germany's largest financial institution). Particularly given that there was talk of the European Financial Capital moving to Germany when the UK leaves the EU. Well, not that amused, actually, as if it goes under it is likely to be worse than Lehman: the world's financial system is once again under threat. How has it come to this yet again? Ah yes, greed.
I'm now the font of all knowledge for all my crafty group ladies as to where to put cash investments that are maturing. Given that the Bank of England only reduced the base rate by 0.25%, most savings accounts have gone down by a lot more than that. You can still get 2% on 5-year fixed bonds, but not in many places (and I see that several rates are going down agian tomorrow, the 1st of October). The most widely available on 5 year fixed ISAs is now 1.75% (and that is only for transfers in, although you can get round this by opening an instant access ISA anywhere, then applying immediately to transfer it). But, local building societies (who often restrict new accounts to postcodes neighbouring their areas) do sometimes have some better offers. I note that HSBC has reduced the interest on its current-account linked 12 month regular savers from 6% to 5% from this week (this affects First Direct, M&S bank and HSBC accounts). If you need some ''BW Wisdom" on the subject of cash investments with guaranteed rates, just drop me a line with a few details *nods to email address in the sidebar* (disclaimer: I am not an IFA; my advice is - arguably - better than theirs, and free ;))
My head is exploding trying to keep up with 20 current accounts, most requiring 2 direct debits and a certain amount paid in during every calendar month, and just over half that number of (comparatively) high-rate linked savings accounts. Why must it be so complicated to secure 'reasonable' guaranteed returns for one's hard-earnt and hard-saved pennies?
I finally found an article that perfectly explains what I've been telling people about why poor interest rates will eventually cause economies to crash. It's a fascinating article: "Non-rich people tend to spend 100 percent of their income, or close to it. Rich people don't. They spend, say, 50 percent of their income and save the rest. This difference is called the "marginal propensity to consume," and it seems like it might be a problem if income inequality is rising. The problem is that as rich people get a larger share of total income, total consumption goes down." I don't consider us 'rich', I consider us 'prudent', and as our income from investment falls, we will trim our spending, as we can't risk depleting our capital yet. I know of many other non-rich, but financially astute, retired people who feel exactly the same way.
I'm amused by the number of countries and major companies that now have women at the helm. When all else fails, let women clean up the mess men have made. And there are plenty of them around the world.
Oh, and, sorry that the comments box below auto-closed just as I was inviting submissions for offices in the BW Party. Given that the code this site relies on is now 13 years old, I daren't play with anything to attempt to change the auto-close rules. Mr BW keeps threatening to make me a new dress (he's now quite adept at creating websites), but I'm future-averse.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
The autumn of the world?
15 years today since 'terrorism' really reared its ugly head and all our lives were changed irrevocably and forever.
In terms of political happenings, I can't currently decide if the US or the UK is worse. Perhaps it's a symptom of the same thing.
I'm still reeling from the Vox revelation earlier this week that in the US bankers don't pay tax on their bonuses.
What can you do when you see children being abused?
And, apparently, the world can cope with 7 or even 10 billion people. But only if we stop eating meat. Erm... or stop producing quite so many children? Or stop people 'buying to let' and foreigners buying investment properties, which are both hugely and artificially restricting the housing market. We need to stop the population explosion or every corner of our countryside will be built upon. Most people are totally unaware of the Local Plan process (housing etc growth plans) in their area and what it will mean for them, and the infrastructure that supports their lives. Think it's hard to get a GP appointment or to cross town in the rush hour now? Just wait... (or, better still, search "Local Plan [your local council]" and get informed/involved).
But how things are happening isn't the right way.
And, for probably the first time ever, I don't have (even a suggestion about) the answer.
I've concluded that it's not a symptom of me ageing (I have wondered about that; particularly as most of those I associate with are somewhat older than me and most don't seem to care about (perceive) such meta-issues). It's a symptom of things being beyond fathomable. There are so many 'systems' in place that are now working to limit the application of common sense. There are still lots of willing people, but many not-so-willing 'systems'.
Inequality increases and the abilty of the evolved 'systems' to do anything about it (irrespective of how much money is thrown at the perceived 'problems') declines.
How did it come to this? And don't say 'politics' because that is, I am increasingly convinced, just a symptom of a wider malaise.
In case you haven't clicked on any of the links, this one is especailly worthy of a perusal, if, in the current climate, you are in need of explanations (if not answers).
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Sunset last night
But, today could be the last day of summer:
Since my last report (nods down to August 12th), we've had another few days that meet my definition of summer, and today is Day 15 above 26°C. Apologies to anyone in the north, or in the southern hemisphere.
It was so warm and golden yesterday that MrBW even got my paddling pool out.
Yes, I have a paddling pool. Actually, two, as Mr BW informs me that there is also a spare (and that there were originally three, but the previously deployed one had disintegrated). Must have been a good offer at some point in the past: I can't remember now, we have summer so rarely in this country.
In this heat, and with the golden light making the garden look fabulous at this time of year, at home, nothing beats sitting in a comfy seat, dangling your legs in a paddling pool, with a book and a pint of Pimm's (actually, Aldi's Austin's, a third of the price, and in tests ten out of ten Witch Testees preferred it, as I've undoubtedly mentioned before). I do try to not start the Pimm's until after noon, but it's quite hard sometimes...
How's the weather where you are?
Thursday, August 18, 2016
A guest post by Mr BW
Last Sunday, Mi1dred reached a mileage milestone.
It might only be 5000 miles, but, trust me, every mile driven in an Austin Seven is worth 50 in driving experience in a modern car. As you can also see, we were ‘cruising’ at 20mph at the time.
We had a lovely day out. Starting at a local gallery's private view of a modern sculptor's latest work, and moving on to one of our favourites, the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden (where they currently have an exhibition of Edward Bawden's early watercolours: BW wants to know how he managed to get such clear colours with such a filthy watercolour paint box) . We finished up at Audley End for a quick visit.
On the way Mildred reached 5000 miles with us. That’s over 9 years, so we haven’t exactly been piling on the miles.
I once read an article saying that all learners should have a lesson in an Austin Seven, and I get the point.
Drivers today are isolated from the dangers out there. Most have never heard of aquaplaning and will happily drive 10m from the bumper of the car in front at 70 mph in torrential rain. They have little understanding of the fragility of life and the fact that they are trusting theirs to four small patches of rubber, the only thing attaching them to the road.
If they had to drive a car with limited brakes, low power, requiring planning to get up the slightest of hills, no air bags, power steering, air conditioning, ABS or seatbelts, then they might just be better and safer drivers.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
It can't last, but...
Day 10 of summer here yesterday (summer days, by my definition, are days of wonderful light and temperatures above 26°C (80°F). Mind you, there's a very autumnal nip in the air in the early morning and late evening of late).
Here's a sight that I suspect you won't see again (end of Day 9 of the Rio Olympics)... excellent work Team GB, keep it up.
Some interresting graphs here.
But, I can't help wondering why it's OK to select and coach sporty youngsters, but it's not OK to select and coach intelligent ones?
Why is it OK for parents to be allowed to send their children to a faith school that pushes their religion, but not OK for parents to want to send their children to a school that nurtures and stretches their academic abilities?
A new incarnation of grammar schools is now, I believe, the only way of ensuring social mobility in our country.
The question should not be, 'Should we have more grammar schools?' but rather, 'How can we devise a selection procedure that is fair to everyone, and has children appreciating their individual strengths, rather than any weaknesses?'
Sunday, August 14, 2016
It amuses me that white cats think they are invisible.
It amazes me that they can sleep in the edges of the field in this position. Very Meryl Streep-ish.
A more useful white thing might be this spray of water and milk:
I'd not heard before that it is effective against powdery mildew, which attacks members of the cucumber and squash family at this time of year (when the foliage is dry and the weather is warm).
I heard it recommended on GQT on R4 on Friday afternoon (repeated this afternoon at 2pm), but they didn't say why it works.
A quick bit of online research discovered that it is based in science: in 1999, Brazilian scientist Wagner Bettiol reported excellent control of the fungus on greenhouse-grown zucchini using fresh cow’s milk diluted with water to a 10% solution.
Since then, practice has found that a 50:50 solution using skimmed milk has been found to be the most effective. As well as helping with the powdery mildew, it also acts as a foliar feed.
I've also read that powdery mildew spores can’t germinate or grow when foliage is wet, so overhead watering is also recommended as a preventative on highly susceptible crops.
So, that's don't water potatoes tomatoes overhead (as it encourages blight), but do water cucumber and squash leaves.
How did I not know this?
Saturday, August 13, 2016
There used to be readers interested in my "beyond most people's money saving" tips. The comments box below the last post shows that some of them are still be around, so with interest rates dropping like stones - any excuse for banks, Brexit was the perfect one - I thought I'd share some of my recent findings.
The three day marathon of "re-sorting to cope with new demands to get the best rates from the banks in the current financial climate" I described in the last post led me to research the new banks to the market.
That's because I'm very fussy about where I will invest... I won't touch Santander, T£Sco, Yorkshire Bank or Post Office (Bank of Ireland). The first two because of their dirty tricks and appalling customer regard and customer service, the latter two because of appalling service in the past (so appalling that it is unforgiveable forever).
I also won't put money into anything Indian, anything Middle Eastern, anything that pays interest but pretends it doesn't so that it complies with Sharia Law (even if the banks have UK banking licences), and anything where the money invested is largely used to fund things I disapprove of (don't start me on Buy-to-Let mortgages, which have led to a much bigger negative effect on the housing market than anyone official is currently acknowledging).
As many of the best rates are with the 'new banks', I was interested to see what they did with money they are lent by savers (and never forget, if you are a saver, that is exactly what you are doing, lending the banks money to enable them to lend it to other people at a much higher rate than they are giving you): this article and this one gave me the answers I was seeking.
Friday, August 12, 2016
It's the ninth day of summer today
There were 7.5 consecutive days in mid July, half a day last Saturday, and, today. So far, that's been it.
Summer, by my definition, is not a day which is cloudy and grey, or below 26°C (80°F).
As friends who came to lunch last weekend said to me, I clearly live in the wrong country.
The field of wheat behind us this year is more than ready to harvest, as this 180° panorama (taken at lunch-time today) shows, but the shared local combines are working elsewhere (we can hear them droning in the distance: Mr BW says the sound reminds him of Saving Private Ryan; I thought I remembered that film, but it turned out I was remembering Private Benjamin. Films and me have a very poor relationship).
The light in the Mediterranean Garden was perfect this afternoon.
In fact, the light everywhere in the garden was perfect:
This is our new-this-year bean and squash tunnel (b1acksmithed by Mr BW following an idea gleaned from a South African vineyard garden):
And this is Mr BW's b1acksmithing vice. It doubles as a plant stand:
I've spent the last three days engaging in higher order finance and financial negotiations. Not an activity I like, but one essential to us, as, both retired by 50, we're currently living mostly on my small ill-health pension, and interest on the savings from our low-cost and as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible living practices over the years.
With a new round of quantative easing just announced by the Bank of England, and more government money available to banks at ridiculously low interest, financial institutions don't need the attract in the public's money, so interest rates for investments are lower than ever.
I refuse to accept less than 2% interest from anyone (basically because we would then be eating into capital for day-to-day expenses, which will create problems for us in the longer-term), and it's getting harder and harder to find homes for maturing funds that have been in 5 year fixed rate bonds earning nearly 5%, but now need re-investing.
As I've mentioned before, I'm currently using 18 current accounts, and their linked regular savings accounts, to get between 3% and 6% interest.
Unfortunately, Bank of Scotland, who allow three current accounts per person, each giving 3% on amounts between £3K and £5K, have just added a new condition requiring two direct debits to be paid out of each account in each calendar month, from September. Hence I've had to find 12 direct debits to relocate.
We don't have many things on direct debit as we don't have subscriptions to things like Sky or Netflix, or mobile phones on expensive contracts (I've recommended giffgaff, which runs on the O2 network, before - get a free sim-card sent to you from this link and you'll get £5 credit, and so will I):
Finding 12 direct debits has taken some doing: moving direct debits that were going out of our main bank account, finding things that could be paid in instalments without incurring huge fees (I've discovered that car tax can now be paid in 12 instalments, for a 38p a month premium, which grieved me, but is a reasonable trade-off for a £12.76 interest gain per month). After much fiddling, I was still one short, so had to apply for a new credit card, on which I will make one small transaction every month, so ensuring the twelfth direct debit.
In moving the direct debits that pay off our cashback credit cards in full every month, I discovered that Barclaycard now offer a free 'Experian what is your credit score?' service, via their online portal. I've never been able to check this before (I get free updates on my credit file with my Capital One credit card, but not a free credit scoring service, and there is no need to pay for it as there is no need to know - not least because each lender uses their own acceptance criteria anyway). I was very surprised that, despite having limited income, both Mr BW and I have absolutely prefect credit ratings:
From what I've read in the financial media, I didn't believe this was possible. Particularly considering the amount of stoozing I did to pay off our mortgage ten years ago. But, I think this should provide encouragement to everyone - manage whatever money you have really carefully and you will be rewarded.
Unfortunately, August is the month where our house buildings and house contents insurances, and two car insurances fall due, requiring much online research and then hard negotiating, as I have a deep aversion to being ripped off. 23 minutes on the phone to the car insurance company and the two premiums dropped from a total of £443 (a huge increase on last year when I moved us both back to a new multi-car policy), to a total of £303. Both fully comprehensive, with business use, and just a £60 excess. If they can rip you off at renewal, they will.
Looking at the renewal documents, I realised that we were paying over £80 a year in motor legal protection on our three car policies. Given the stories I've heard from friends recently about the very limited use of these policies (they will only take on a case if they think it has at least a 51% chance of success, and will give up at any opportunity and either give no, or very spurious, reasons for their opting out), I had become quite cynical about them. We always take out free-standing damage excess cover when we hire cars abroad (and save huge amounts of money), and I idly wondered if similar free-standing policies were available for motor legal cover.
I've never seen this mentioned anywhere, including on money-saving websites. But... a quick bit of Googling and we found that DriverGuardian offer a year's motor legal cover for a driver driving any car, for £15 for one person, £20 for two, or £25 for four. We compared the cover side-by-sde with our existing policies, and the cover is slightly better, and gives wider coverage. Another saving of £60. They seem to have good feedback too.
Yeah, it's hard work beating financial institutions at their own games, and you need a good diary system, and to be absolutely forensic about checking the T&Cs, and printing everything out and filing it away carefully for future reference, but it's amazingly satisfying. Beats going to work anyway.
We are thoroughly enjoying the Rio Olympics, although I am a little sad about all the empty seats at many events. As someone of very short attention span, the flitting about of the coverage suits me - and aren't the BBC presenters working hard? Very impressive. It's great to see our sportspeople doing so well (currently 4th in the medal table): amazing what can be achieved in sports once they receive proper funding.
I really don't understand all the whipped-up by social media hoo-ha about sexist commentary. Celebrate the differences people, celebrate the differences. Men and women are not the same, and it's time we stopped pretending. Although, I do think the women athletes should be allowed to wear rather more clothing - and I don't like the design on the GB kit this time - it took me 3 days to work out what the dark silhouette was. To add my own little bit to this debate - it amazes me how much make-up the girlies wear. Most of them look like they're going to a party! In my county-level athletics days we wouldn't have dreamed of wearing make-up.
I've never managed to see the Perseids. It's clear here, so tonight could be the night...
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
On this day in 1995, we moved here.
Since then, stranger and stranger things have happened, day by day, month by month, and year by year. But, this summer, the strangest things ever:
Blue fields (not borage) have appeared in the distance:
A bit closer up:
The colour of pollen these flowers yield (and have the b33s learnt to read what we write about them?):
An empty hive, left out overnight after one of Mr BW's b33 talks to Nice Ladies, magically filled with a stray swarm (not from our ap1ary):
A leaf-cutter b33 mistook a folded newspaper in a basket in the utility for a place to build a nest:
The nest, contained within a surrounding folded rectangle of newspaper, had to be cut out, and relocated to a teapot hanging in a tree (I'm calling the offspring, when she emerges, Alice).
The Debster lily (which must now be eight or nine?) has been more amazing than ever, for weeks:
Mi1dred did a wedding:
And a hen is laying green eggs:
It's strange to think that we'd only been here seven and a half years when I started writing this blog.
Oh, and Johnnie Walker, having ignored all previous requests from me for a request when Mr BW was 50, and again when he retired (16 months ago now), finally played one for us, at Mr BW's behest, this week. But not for being 21. As Mr BW said, "Punk still rules, even if now accompanied by a glass of sherry."
Monday, July 25, 2016
Thing I've learnt in the last week
1. Make shop-bought cucumbers last much longer by removing the polythene wrapper immediately you get them home.
2. Make hands made rough by gardening soft enough to work with silk (or anything else that would stick to the rough bits) by putting half a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of olive oil in one palm then vigorously rubbing them together.
What have you learnt in the past week?
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Smart move, to make sure the new next door neighbour has the same first name as your husband.
And very very smart move to appoint David Davis to the new cabinet position of Secretary of State for Brexit. A veteran Eurosceptic, and one-time wannabe PM, he has previously held the positions of Conservative Party Chairman and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, as well as Shadow Home Secretary under both Michael Howard and David Cameron. Lots of relevant experience, and the mellow wisdom of age. Smart move. Mr BW reckons that Chris Patten should also be drafted in pronto to the exit process - he has lots of experience negotiating over Hong Kong with China, after all.
It all happened rather faster than They'd planned though. *Nods down* Good spell BW, good spell (although I obviously omitted some vital titbit, as Boris was due to be left on the back benches, if not shown the back door, by my reckoning).
I'm intrigued by what Queenie may have said to Mrs May, in her rather waspish (yellow and black) outfit, this afternoon, though.
- "Make sure you don't wear the same colours as One at events you and One are both attending!"
- "You can always use One's Throne Room to shoot-up should it become necessary."
- "It's so nice to have someone of the age of One's children's generation rather One's grandchildren's in charge again. Those young bucks have been so needy and so tiresome."
I guess the tax-payers' contribution to Clothing the Leader has just increased significantly though... let's hope she only buys British (or, given how the Scots are acting, only buys English).
I do hope the Staff at Number 10 have removed all those kiddy hand-prints from the walls and checked down the backs of all the sofas for lost soft toys.
And I'm looking forward to Dead Ringers on R4 on Friday evening. From what I heard earlier, they've perfected her voice already.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Man goes into an empty bar.
There are bartenders behind the bar.
Man says to one bartender, "I'd like a beer please."
Bartender gestures to a bank of iPads positioned along the bar.
Man says to bartender, "I'd like a beer please."
Bartender says gruffly, gesturing pointedly at the iPads, "You have to order on there sir!"
Man says, "But I only want a beer served!"
Bartender says, "You have to enter your order, pay with your card, then I can get you your beer!"
Man attempts to use the terminal. Is disgusted that he has to add a 20% tip in order to get his order taken by the self-service machine so that the bartender can get a beer out of the fridge and plonk it in front of him.
Just happened to the Old Friends BW in Newark airport.
Still, what do you expect in the country where they cling fervently to their 'constitutional right' to have guns, where there is unaddressed institutional racism in the police, and where this will continue to happen as no US government will ever be brave enough to try to change the status quo.
Guns have no place in a civilised society. And nor do self-service, but still need to pay 20% tip, bars.
As supermarkets in this country continue to increase the numbers of self-service checkouts, it's coming to somewhere near you soon, for sure.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
With journalists now, but due out sometime around 11am. 11:11 would be appropriate, I think.
Despite all the current media-fuelled disquiet about more 1.3M more Britons choosing to Leave Europe than to Remain, the effect of that decision, on the world, over time, will, I am sure, be much less than that of one Prime Minister's (war criminal's) decision, on the flimsiest of evidence, to follow America into an illegal war.
Friday, July 1, 2016
History tells us that in times of political unrest, new parties form.
In 1981 it was the Social Democratic Party.
In 1988 it was the Liberal Democrats.
Reading those links (other sources are available) shows just how history constantly repeats itself. The lessons are just never learnt.
Who will be the new Gang of Four in 2016? (other numbers of founder members are allowed)
And what will the new Party call themselves (I nearly put 'be called' there, but that would be too tempting...)
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Seven Days On
Now there's a thought.
Now, all we need is to get loose cannon Nicola Sturgeon on side, and accepting that her own personal agenda isn't what should be occupying her mind/obvious talents right now, and there may be hope. Three women mopping up after the men, just for a change.
We're hearing very little about what happens if our new PM refuses to trade single market access for free movement of people.
The average tax imposed would be 3% I heard from an informed source on R4 yesterday (CBATG for links - well, OK, I did, but it's complicated). Given that we'd get 3% back on similar import duties (tit for tat), and accepting a few extra documents might need completing, what's the problem? The rest of the world is a much bigger (and faster-growing) market than those markets currently in the EU anyway. Yeah, I know a lot of bankers will miss their BMWs, and wide boys their Audi TTs, but, hey ho, perhaps we could even resurrect our automotive industry (we have the skills, even if they are currently being directed by non-British based companies). Mi1dred can be the BW's Party representative in charge of that. She's a proud product of The Midlands and still going strong 83 years on.
Let's face it, if the EU hadn't prevented the UK from imposing tariffs on the Chinese dumping cheap/subsidised steel on us, then South Wales would be a happier place right now.
Already our stock market is back above its levels of 8 days ago, and looking strong:
"Markets recap: FTSE 100 erases post-Brexit losses as buying bonanza fuels rebound
A buying bonanza fuelled the FTSE 100’s remarkable rebound, erasing all of its post-Brexit losses in just two days.
London’s benchmark index enjoyed its best day in almost five years, soaring 219.67 points, or 3.58pc, to a two-month high of 6,360.06.
The rebound follows an 8.7pc plunge in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. The blue chip index now trading up 0.5pc since the referendum outcome was announced."
We don't need the single market. Call the men in Brussels bluff say I.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Thought for the day
Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
State of The Nation
Oh no, wait, it's a Venn diagram, isn't it? As ever, I find myself outside the circles.
It's good to finally see some informed and sensible debate on TV around the real issues that now need sorting out. As I said yesterday, I think that current events have fast-forwarded us to a place that would otherwise have taken 50 years. History will tell, but I'm hopeful it will make for a better future.
We have a long and proud history in creative-based industries, manufacturing and engineering. It's not too late to get it back. No-one wants to have to work in a call centre. There can be little more soul-destroying than having no hope, nothing to do that has a tangible product at the end of the day, being unappreciated, and on a zero hours contract. And that was what was on offer, ad infinitum, to a large proportion of the population.
The next person who says, "Oh but look at the stock exchange, look at the pound!" within my hearing will be incisively questioned about their knowledge and understanding of both.
Monday, June 27, 2016
When all is uncertain...
... ask those who have concerns what they are.
Often the concerns stem from misinformation, or lack of information, or a feeling of powerlessness.
There is always something different that can be done in any situation.
If you don't like what's happening - then get involved, in the real world. Shouting at people on the internet is like pissing in the wind (probably worse, actually, as at least with pissing in the wind you get wet trousers for your efforts).
Thought for the day
"One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country."