Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Solstice!

Not so bleak this evening, very mild all day (into double figures, and nearly as warm at night), with another glorious sunset (this taken at 16:43). Alas, too many clouds to see the ISS's best pass for ages (5 minutes at 88°).

If you're anywhere near Sevenoaks in Kent, I can recommend the National Trust property Ightham Mote's dressing of the (ground floor) of the house for the FOTCR™, complete with playlets by the volunteers in upstairs/downstairs Victorian dress. We went on Thursday, and even I was so enchanted that I had to go round twice...

I don't know what has come over the NT of late - in many houses one is now allowed to wander anywhere in rooms, and even sit on some chairs, and here they were even letting people play billiards in the billiards room. Despite not having played snooker for 20ish years, Mr BW still made the bloke with the plummy accent and pretentious use of rests and bridges, who, for all his drama, didn't manage to pot a single ball, look rather daft.

We couldn't decide whether this Master of the House was a QC or a public school headmaster before he retired:

These pomanders smelt so good that I was nearly tempted to stick some cloves in some oranges myself when we got home:

Painting on RHS by Winston Churchill (who lived nearby):

I'm tempted to arrange my fruit like this:

Someone else thinks that the FOTCR™ is for teddies:

The wonderful decorations were produced by 3rd year floristry students from the local college (although I only found that out from the website, there were no notices up, which I felt was rather remiss):

Even the dog kennel was adorned:

I'm really glad I don't have to clean the silver:


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy WitchDay to me

I got my Routemaster at last!

Well, OK, I think my anti-mass transportation noise spell must have affixed itself to the wrong vehicle, as it's turned up as N-gauge (why is 'gauge' one of the few words that I always mis-spell), but a bit of a real one has turned up too ('You can ring my be-e-e-ell'), so the spell can't be all that far off course.

Today my Patchy Ladies are having a birthday party for me (well, OK, they're calling it the group's annual festive lunch, but I know that it's only because they don't want to embarrass me), but I really could have done without companies who know my real date of birth (insurance, airline, phone) sending me emails congratulating me on the fact. I'm sure that the marketing bods who came up with that idea were thrilled, but I'm afraid it leaves me cold and is, I think, true abuse of data and invasion of privacy.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

December - cold at last

Lots of significant days this week, and not just for the dates (10.12.14; 14.12.14). But, I am not at liberty to say too much about any of that. Not just yet, anyway.

Dad's rose today (it's climbed up beyond the height of the house, and is waving in the blue sky):

East view last Monday (after the first really hard frost of the year):

West view last Monday (after the first really hard frost of the year):

Hens, now on their winter pasture (weeding and feeding the lawn):

The full moon setting the other morning (with added plane, just for a change...):

Sadly, one of the eight month old black kittens was killed by another speeding motorist sometime in the night. She was the least friendly (even Cleaner BW who can usually tame even feral cats failed to get a collar on her while she was looking after them when we were away in Northumberland for two weeks recently), but it was still a shock when our elderly neighbour (who gets up earlier than we do) knocked on the door to tell us the bad news soon after it got light this morning.

This, from November 21st, is the only (half) picture I have of her as a big cat (top right) - she is trying to be friendly (if only because there is some bribery occurring to permit Frontlining):

Her sister is the middle one with the blue collar.

In the first ten years that we lived here, we lost 16 cats to the road. This is (touch wood) only the second since 2005 (who remembers TGF the very fluffy one?) when, after a lot of lobbying, we got the 40mph speed limit for our lane.

Every cat who has ever died on the road has (thankfully) been killed instantly. But, until today, I have never seen one with its eyes popped completely out of its head (I thought I'd spare you the photo): four wheels must have been doing a hell of a speed. So, we now have only three: the two mummies, who can't have any more, and one daughter, upon whom future lineage now depends...

The International Space Station is back over the UK again from tonight - where we are, 5:46 PM, Visible: 2 min, Max Height: 56 degrees, Appears: SW, Disappears: ESE. You have signed up for the email alerts for your location, haven't you? I see that there are two flypasts (flyovers?) planned for my Witchday later in the week, and two for FOTCR™ Day. Fab.

If you know a teenage gamer who you'd like to be more involved in STEM subjects... then NASA have come up with something to encourage them: Dust.

Because, there is a real future in space, with considerable UK taxpayer investment. Which is just as well, because our 'great leaders' in Lima couldn't even agree what they should be doing about climate change right now: postponing a decision isn't an option that they should ever have taken. And how is it two years this week since Patrick Moore died?


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Friday Question

'Tis the Season to throw vouchers at people, if you are a retailer.

Every email or snail mail delivery brings more vouchers, or promises of free P&P, or 20% or 25% off if I order by a certain date/time.

The supermarkets appear to be more desperate than ever this year...

Having bought a year's supply of wine (that's a year's supply for a normal person, so it won't be a year's supply for us) through Waitrose last week (33% off, plus another 5% for buying in 12s, plus 10% off for having a 'MyWaitrose' card, plus £15 off £100, and free delivery - all paid for using a 1% cashback credit card), I thought that would be the last of the vouchers, but no, another 4, each giving £12 off £60 fell through my door yesterday.

The previous day Sainsbury's had sent me the identical selection, together with a promise of some extra bonus Nectar points if I used all four. They are clearly missing my pennies, but, I am a Witch of Principle, and the CEO can't say that I didn't personally (well, OK, in an e-dialogue we had) tell him where his business was going, due to their increasingly wrong attitude to customers.

Ocado are just plain desperate this year - they haven't quite worked out that I only ever buy large quantities of sugar once a year - and emailed me a '35% off your next shop and free delivery' voucher.

Now even Aldi (whose fresh cranberries this year are better than Waitrose's and Morrisons put together, I've discovered) are jumping on the bandwagon - offering £15 off £75 spend, rather than their normal £5 off £40.

But - I'm aware that supermarkets offer different discounts to different sorts of customer - give them your details by using a reward card (or even, I'm told, the same credit card each time you shop) and they will be busily calculating your average spend, and encouraging you to up it by offering vouchers at thresholds £10 or £20 above your normal expenditure.

Have you received any discount vouchers from supermarkets?
If so, for how much off what expenditure?


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Strange Day

We knew that today was going to be a strange day from the time we looked at the BBC weather forecast this morning:

The world has been turned on its head. The future has been irrevocably changed.

This is not a bad thing.

This may be the most cryptic blog entry that I have ever made.


Friday, December 5, 2014

The Friday Question

They say that you know you're getting on a bit when policemen look too young.

I've noticed a new phenomenon - university professors being appointed in their 30s.

The first one I became aware of a couple of years ago was 39, and the latest was 33.

When I was at university, over 30 years ago now, admittedly, 'professor' was a badge seemingly reserved for the time-served, often in their last decade of active research, and shortly before they became a 'reader' or 'honorary research fellow' when they eased into retirement.

My own aunt only got the title after retiring from her long-term academic position in the UK in her 60s, and being talked into taking on a research post abroad - more as an internationally regarded well-published 'name' to add credibiity, I've always thought.

I'm intrigued by the change in age profile of the title, and wonder what thoughts you might have on this?

Posted at 11:04 AM | Comments (8)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On the fourth day

Much as I'd like to write a post about yesterday's Autumn Statement, and delighted as I am by what it will do for us personally (which makes a change), and how it will hit 'those the media love to hate' (Amazon, Google, 'the super-rich', 'immigrants' and 'scroungers'), I honestly can't summon up the enthusiasm.

So, instead, I will tell you a little story that made me smile earlier.

We've been sleeping very irregularly of late, due to events which have required lots of thinking, much of which has happened in the night. Once one gets into not sleeping through the night, it can easily become a pattern, and then, at worst, a habit (I don't know why my brain just typed 'hobbit' there, must be the exhaustion freeing up my creativity, which has been seriously blocked of late, again).

BBC Breakfast gave us dinosaurs while it was still dark outside this morning, or, more specifically, Sophie the Stegosaurus, appearing in the Natural History Museum in London for the first time today, and apparently the only steggie skelington outside the US.

"I made an Airfix model of a stegosaurus!" exclaimed Mr BW.
"I don't suppose you've still got it - I wonder what happened to it?" I replied.

"Erm - I set fire to it," he replied. "With my magnifying glass."

Now, I've heard about this magnifying glass before. I think it was in relation to burning an action man, or maybe it was Tonto. I sighed.

"Presumably you had to set fire to a piece of paper first? And where did this massacre take place?" "In Mum and Dad's garden!" "So your Mum knew what you were doing? She encouraged the burning of a stegosaurus kit you'd made? I know she's always been a bit of a minimalist, but most parents would give their kids a few sticks to experimentally burn, not make them burn their toys!"

I found a 'vintage' kit for one on eBay. "Shall we buy it, just for fun?" I suggested. "No, they were all a bit of a disappointment that Airfix series - two plastic sides and some legs to fold over and stick together and some spikes to stick in the top. 10 pieces at most. No."

Given that Mr BW has just finished his latest blacksmithing sculptural creation - which is waiting for the galvanising to weather down before he can undercoat, paint and add the cut-off blue glass bottles to it, he'll be looking for a new project. How about a stegosaurus skelly? It could go next to the Iron Chicken...

Posted at 10:07 AM | Comments (4)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I fought the law and *I* won

Spectacularly and very unexpected successful victory last night.

I mentioned earlier in the year that the BW Party now had its first elected member, which wasn't me. Mr BW took on his local role as this area is being swamped by incomers and business consortia with loadsa money who are seeking to make a fast buck at residents' expense, and the Authorities are just passing their applications for [whatever], contrary to existing Local Plans and policies, because those who wish to steal our peace and quiet and rural aspect employ expert legal staff, and, in the face of threats to claim their huge expenses if [whatever] application is turned down, the inexperienced and less qualified over-stretched Staff of Officialdom generally just let things through unchallenged (despite us pointing out exactly what they could challenge).

Part of the problem is that there are a lot of very old people who have lived here all their lives: when they die their properties and land are pounced on by developers with no scruples. Additionally, nearing the end of their lives, and having a belief that 'The Powers that Be' always know best, they are not motivated to challenge and object to any scheme, which makes it look like most people don't care what happens to their environment.

Can't say too much, but you wouldn't believe what has been allowed.

Last night Mr BW and I went to appear at a licen5ing h3aring, against an application for 365/24/7 permission to run any type of (unspecified) licensable event (in and outdoor, including music) and allow round-the-clock drinking and eating (and off sales) for up to thirty thousand people. Remember that this is a rural area, with sporadic hamlets, sound carries, and there is no public transport and only narrow local lanes.

Against all the odds, and against an expert QC (top legal bod for non-UK readers), we got restrictions and limited hours put on. Not as many as we'd like (but we're assured - but don't believe - that other requirements of the pre-event planning system cover a lot of what we were seeking).

And what won it?

Me being obstreperous and insisting on having the last word to point out something vital that would otherwise have been overlooked amidst the QC's rhetoric and highly patronising attitude to me, as someone unused to such appearances, and without the protective cloak of "I'm a Councillor" which the other three people who appeared against the application had to hide behind. The effort of waving my arm around enough to be listened to even though the Chair had denied me the right to say anything else at the end has also freed up something that has been giving me a semi-frozen left shoulder for the last few weeks. Oh the relief.

It's a small but satisying victory in a sea of ongoing officialdom and numerous cases which have eaten up much of our time and head space over the year. But at least it's a victory. And it makes it worthwhile to continue the fight over other ongoing, and future, cases.

After all, someone has to protect our countryside for future generations. I often hear a line from Joni Mitchell in my head... "They took all the trees, put them in a tree museum, charged the people a dollar and a half just to see them."

*wonders where the next threat will come from, and when*


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On 'Stuff'

The problem of living in one house for a long time is that it is very easy to accumulate stuff.

  • 'Could come in useful one day' type stuff.

  • 'Just need to keep those details about x/y/z in case the issue ever arises again' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep that paperwork because it might be needed to sort out something pertaining to this address/service at this address' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep that [relic/objet] because I like [relics/objets] and I can only find them because someone else kept them for years before selling them on' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep that because it will be worth something one day' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep that because I am a teacher/artist/crafter/fixer/etc and I know that the minute I throw it away I will find a lesson/project that needs it' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep that information about a group I belong/ed to because no-one else will, and I'll be able to provide it when needed' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep financial information more than the legally required 6 years as the only reason we got significant compensation for mis-sold products in the past was because we had kept every last sheet of paperwork from the time' type stuff.

  • 'Need to keep that printout form the internet of those T&Cs because the supplying company will change their website and I might need to prove the T&Cs I signed up to' type stuff.

  • 'Can't bear to part with that even though I don't like/want/need it, because it was given/sent to me/written by someone who is no longer in my life/has died and I remember them fondly when I look at it' type stuff.

  • And 'stuff'. Miscellaneous 'stuff'. Generic 'stuff'. The sort of 'stuff' that you put in a pile thinking, 'That looks interesting, I'll look at that properly/make that recipe/[insert your excuse of choice] later (although later never comes), and that, if regularly decluttered (for example, on moving house) would never mount up in the first place.

The trouble with 'stuff' is that eventually you realise that it is out of control, but the sheer size of the task to sort it all out is overwhelming. Too overwhelming to ever get started.

There's a whole industry that has grown up around 'stuff' in recent years - websites, self-help books, TV programmes, and professional organisers who will come and throw out your stuff for £450 a day plus travel plus skip hire, while you stand open-mouthed sobbing and protesting.

But, it doesn't really help.

It's also not a task that anyone, however well-intentioned can really help you with. Over the years I've helped several people declutter and organise 'stuff' (for example, when someone close to them has died). But, it's much harder to declutter your own 'stuff'.

I'm very good at setting up well-thought-out systems for filing and organising, and everything important is (and always has been) in apple-pie order. Official documents, instruction books, important product guarantees, financial information - I have a lifetime's worth, all in perfect order, put in suspension files on treasury tags all in date order, in categories, in filing cabinets (with archives in indexed boxes).

But, there is still a lot of other 'stuff'. Miscellaneous 'stuff'. It has been accumulating since 2006 when we sacrificed the loft to a large extension. All the 'stuff' that had been pushed into the walk-in loft over years had to come out in a hurry. Most of it went in the Inner Coven, in what was then quite a small pile. Which had grown over the past 8 years to be a large pile. 'Stuff' multiples when you're not actually looking - have you ever noticed?

This was the 'stuff' in 2009. I don't have any more recent photos because I only take photos of things I like or want to remember for some reason. It has changed quite a lot since then, and not all for the worst.

The rest of The Coven is neat. Very neat.

The 'stuff' pile is just in the Inner Coven. Well, OK, other than the 'stuff' on top of the microwave, and the 'stuff' in the bathroom unit drawers. And a few too many useful things hidden away in cupboards. And, erm, the over-spill of unprocessed alpaca that got installed into the Potting Shed when the Studio was last reorganised. But, other than in The Inner Coven, it's all very neat around here. The best thing about the Inner Coven is that it has a key lock. I can easily turn the key and hide it so that no-one else can see the 'stuff' hiding within.

I've wanted to sort out the Inner Coven 'stuff' piles for years. But, although I've frequently occasionally started, after a well-intentioned initial burst of enthusiasm, it always ends half-heartedly after a few hours, in a half-sorted mess that gets pushed back into a box and back onto the 'stuff' pile.

But then last week I had an idea.

If I were to throw away 20 'things' every day, by the end of a week I'd have thrown away 140, by the end of the month 620, and the end of a year 7,300.

A 'thing' can be anything at all. Paper, object, however small, it doesn't matter. Even junk mail that has arrived through the letterbox that day, or an old receipt, or an out-of-date store coupon from your purse can count. Any thing disposed of is progress, after all.

It's really easy to find 20 'things'. Really easy. One doesn't have to start looking through huge piles and sorting them, one can just turn over a heap of anything and pick out things that can go without a second thought. I guess that even the individual holes from a hole-punch could count if I get desperate and have run out of the day's energy...

Yes, it will get harder as it goes on, but, then the habit of 20 a day will become more ingrained as time goes on.

But, I think decluttering is like deciding to do something about an addiction - you have to get to a certain stage in order to actually start taking action.

Anyone else recognise any of this?

Posted at 10:34 AM | Comments (6)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The last month of the year

Grey, murky, dark early, and overly damp.
Perfectly sums up most of this year.

Even the Tooth Fairy, who refills recycled advent calendars in her spare time, felt it appropriate to leave liqueur filled chocolates this year:

Mr BW always eats his advent chocolate before work, so he's currently set up to face the day. Not being a coffee drinker, I'm wondering about the possibilities of liqueur tea.

I finished my visits to shops until January (apart from fresh milk - not enough room in the freezer for all we use - and a few fresh veg and fruit that we don't have in the garden) last Wednesday.

We finally gave in and put the central heating on on Thursday. Latest ever, but it's not cold (10-12°C by day, a couple of degrees below that at night - only one frost so far this year, overnight on 23rd/24th November, and that wasn't enough to blacken the cannas and dahlias enough to enable them to be put away for the winter).

While I was out shopping, this vehicle parked diagonally opposite me in the out-of-town retail park.

Perfectly sums up everything that is wrong with this part of the world methinks. A quick bit of Googling discovered that, until last year, it used to reside on a Ford Focus. Far too much nouveau money, no conscience, no breeding and no manners. Anything for a quick buck, and no consideration/thought for who their money-making schemes hurt.

The 'Black Friday' (can we not escape Americanising everything, even when it's got absolutely nothing to do with us?) fights in shops just made me despair. Want, want, want. Me, me, me. Greed, greed, greed.

Will things ever get better?


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Space. Communications.

Skype for web. Coming to a browser near you, soon. No need for apps.

And BT are in talks to buy O2. Full circle, as my first mobile phone, back in 1993, when I was a technology loving pioneer rather than a technology hating dinosaur, was on Cellnet, a collaboration between BT and Securicor. So will the Millennium Dome (no, I'm not calling it by a brand name) now become the BT Dome? From Tower to Dome.

If you missed it, there is still a few days left to watch the brilliant Sky at Night hour-long special about the Rosetta mission (sorry, only in the UK, unless you can find yourself a proxy server - although I don't know of any reliable free ones these days). I'm also reliably informed that the January programme of that long-running series will be similarly wonderful as it's been filmed at a high-tech workplace near here. Ahem. Mr BW has been busy again today.

And let's hope that those Clangers fix Philae rather than repurpose it...