Archive for April, 2008

A big green myth

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

I suppose many of us have often wondered or thought about escaping from it all and leaving modern life with all of its stresses and strains behind. Becoming totally green and leaving an almost zero carbon footprint with little or no impact upon our surroundings.  For the vast majority a mortgage and rent are the biggest outgoings to a family budget closely followed by fuel bills, water rates, domestic rates, food, clothing and transport but not necessarily on that order. As I see it the only way to escape is to have enough money to buy some land and live off it, however this solution is not in itself the complete answer.

What most of the companies selling green technology will not tell you is how much it will cost. For example we know how much land will be from the estate agents and from that we can calculate how much we will have to devote to crops, how much for livestock and how much to set aside to grow trees as fuel for cooking and heating in solid fuel burners. To go completely off grid with no sewage, no power or water requires a substantial investment and the array of information is truly mind numbing and often conflicting from one manufacturer to another. Try as I might I can find little information if any about reed bed filters. To live off grid you need to dispose of human waste, often called black water and two ways of doing this are composting toilets and reed bed filters. Composting toilets are a great idea, clean and environmentally friendly. The drawback with this solution is that if you have 12 pints of Guinness and a good curry one night, well I will leave the rest to your imagination.

To manage black water and grey water which consists of water from the bath or the washing machine etc, you really need a reed bed filter. There are two types, vertical and horizontal. Horizontal beds do not take up as much space as vertical beds so the land requirements are less however they require a slope. Virtually no information about building one of these is in the public sector. Many companies will sell you the information and offer to install such a process for you, usually at a prohibitive cost. After months of scouring the internet and asking librarians with no results I started emailing several green communities to ask how they managed. To date none have replied and the idea of the helpful eco friendly sandal wearing hippy with his tofu sandwiches and lentils is starting to look like a myth.

Unless you want to live by candle light then some form of electricity is a must and once again going totally off grid is a complete minefield. I may want to escape but I still want to know what is going on in the outside world. A TV, stereo, microwave and washing machine along with electric lights are a complete must in my book. Photovoltaic cells or solar panels are only 18% efficient and wind turbines are useless on a calm day and all the energy needs to be stored. To store all this electric you need deep cell batteries capable of providing 240 volts on tap. You will also want to ensure they don’t run flat in minutes under a heavy load, consequently at least two of these monsters are required and they are not cheap. They also need to be renewed every 10-15 years and this will be an ongoing cost as will the solar panels and turbines.

The cost of going truly green is exorbitant as considerations need to be made about the cost of every day living. Tending land and livestock is almost a full time job and so working for a living is almost out of the question. Hard currency is needed for vets fees and transportation fuel to name but two items let alone taxes and so a substantial amount of money is needed in some form of investment to draw income or interest from. Sadly it seems that to the vast majority of us who crave the simple life, becoming environmentally friendly in its truest sense is a big green myth.

it’s really only a small price to pay

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Where to start? At the beginning I suppose so here goes. Bean Counter and me had decided some time ago that this year we were going to visit some of the islands around the UK for a series of long weekends instead of one two week annual holiday at a fly and fry resort somewhere warm on another continent. So last week I duly booked two nights accommodation on Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast. Holy Island is better known as Lindisfarne and it is a place I have wanted to visit for many years. So Friday just gone, Me and BC loaded up the car with walking boots, rucksacks, hiking poles and hip flasks and all the usual paraphernalia for a walking holiday including distress flares, Kendal mint cake, compass and my trusted Swiss army knife. With a borrowed satnav, AA instructions, a full tank of petrol and plenty of time to spare we hit the road.

It was inevitable that not all would go as smoothly as the military like precision with which I had planned the event. The first problems began on the motorway. Lanes and lanes of standing traffic all going nowhere and for no reason any one could see. After almost two hours of crawling along the motorway and having travelled the majestic distance of 30 odd miles or so, things cleared up and I pressed my foot to the metal to make up for time. For those of you who do not know, Lindisfarne is an island connected by a causeway that is covered at high tides. You can only cross the causeway when the tide is out. If the tide is in than you are stuck either on the mainland or the island itself with no way of getting off except by boat.

The old adage that time and tide wait for no man is certainly true and with 4 hours to go before the cut off point we were only 130 miles away and motoring smoothly. Things really got sticky at this point as the horizon went black and the windscreen cracked. My bonnet had flown open and was blocking my entire vision. I hit the hazard button, slowed down trying to remember the Lords prayer and hoping nothing behind me would plough into the back of the car. Mercifully nothing did but it was difficult trying to get from the middle lane and onto the hard shoulder with some mindless pricks giving me the finger and some frosty stares. Only when they had passed me and saw my predicament did they appreciate the trouble I was in.

Feeling shocked, cold and very annoyed me and BC sat on the grass verge and awaited the cavalry in the shape of the AA to get us back home. The car was completely un-driveable with a windscreen that was likely to implode at the first bump and a mangled bonnet that would not stay down. The police arrived and I duly explained what had happened and they rang their control room to ensure the emergency services were on their way. One and half hours later a rescue vehicle turned up and loaded my car onto the back and we headed back in the opposite direction home. Thankfully neither BC nor me were injured and things could have been so much worse but may car may be registered as a write off due to the age and mileage and as I could not cancel the booking for the room with in less than 24 hours for either night I was liable for the cost of the room. It would have been cheaper and safer to have stayed at home, gone into the shower and stood there ripping up 20 pound notes.

Genghis (new gallery click on link) was really pleased to see us and BC and I consoled ourselves with a large stiff drink and a takeaway that really should have been taken away, to somewhere else. Today is another day and although its still damp and miserable, I can console myself that the only injury I have suffered is to my wallet and pride. It’s really only a small price to pay.

More like long legs

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Wahey, it stopped raining enough for me to cut the front lawn. No big deal you might think but to me it meant a break in the weather and blue skies if only for a few short hours. However, it did lighten my mood for a short period. This has been enhanced by the amount of people who have read this blog and either emailed me, rang or even called to Château Ghastanbury to express either delight that I have made a decision or sorrow that I am finally going. It has restored my faith in humanity. My circle of friends has always been important to me but I had forgotten how many I had until the last posting. However it’s not so much farewell as au revoir. (Sic?) I shall be keeping in touch and when I do settle details will be posted so any one who wants to, can come and visit. I will always have a spare room, fridge full of beer and meat in the freezer for throwing on a hot grill.

Back to the bike situation and it’s all in the length of the legs. I have always had this theory that women have longer legs than men as in proportionately. Let me give you an example. I am 5 foot 11 inches tall with an inside leg measurement of 31 inches. This equates to approximately 43.66 % of my height. Most of the women I have known have longer legs than me even those who are shorter in height. My last long term girlfriend was five foot nine inches tall with a 33 inch inside leg measurement (aprox 47%).  Now this means she must have a shorter body than me. Given that we all have the same bits inside of us, lungs liver, heart, stomach and such like (yes I know woman have tubey bits inside of them but lets not discuss that), then there is either more space in men’s bodies or women have smaller bits inside of them. I mean do women have less space between their internal organs than men and if so what is sloshing around in men’s bodies to take up the space?

Take Bean Counter for instance, it is generally recognised by those who have met her that she is a wonderful, compassionate, witty and intelligent woman who happens to be vertically challenged. (Read dwarf or midget, I never knew the difference anyway) And, to boot she is not bad looking either.  She is five foot nothing but has an inside leg measurement of 27.2/5 inches which equates to 45.23% of her total height. So what I hear you ask. Well most of the bikes I have been looking at have a seat height of around 32 inches high. This means that not only can I not sit on one without both feet touching the floor but neither can she. This means I have to make a decision and one I had never thought of before. Do I dump her in favour of some who has longer legs, pay for surgery to have her legs extended or pay a fortune for my bike to be custom made with a VERY low seat?

Whoever would have thought that the length of a persons legs would play a major part in some one else’s destiny? As Rod Stewart sang Hot legs, more like long legs.

Down but not out

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Rain, rain and yet more rain coupled with black skies. “What are you complaining about” one wag asked, “It’s April you expect rain”. I will concede that it is indeed April and yes I expect the odd shower or two here and there. What I really expect is there to be Bluebirds, Swifts and Swallows all flying carelessly through the Skies. I expect to hear the sound of the Cuckoo in the far distance and gaze in awe at pretty rainbows on the horizon as warm gentle light spring showers cascade through the suns rays. I expect to see postmen in short trousers whistling as they deliver the mail, full of the joys of spring. I do not expect torrential rain, endless grey skies and waterlogged earth too soggy to walk upon.

It is because of this that I am going travelling in search of pastures new. It made logical sense to me that it would be easier to inspect large areas properly if I had my own transport rather than relying on public transport and much cheaper than car hire for prolonged exploration. It crossed my mind to take my own car into Europe but the thought of using a right hand drive vehicle in a mainly left hand continent filed me with dread. I hate driving at the best of times. In a flash of inspiration it hit me, buy a new motorcycle. There will be no problems with left or right hand drive. And so it was that after days spent on the Internet reviewing and comparing motorcycles and a good few hours or so talking to other bikers, I narrowed the choice of machine down to two models. The Honda Transalp or the BMW RG650S.

Both are touring machines and should be more than capable of going for miles along good tarmac and adept at handling off road and green lanes. Now I have not ridden a motorbike for almost 15 years but I still have a valid licence and my enthusiasm for opening a throttle and watching the tarmac whiz by is as strong as ever. Feeling full of youthful optimism I walked into a bike dealers and explained what I wanted and why and he showed me a few different models. Motorbikes have certainly changed a lot in the last 15 years. They certainly do not look like any thing I ever owned or rode in my youth. Undeterred I confidently strode to one particular model just to get the feel of the machine and promptly swung my leg over the saddle. It was at this point that I realised that things were not going to go as smoothly as my research indicated.

Firstly my leg did not want to go over the top of the saddle and when it did I thought I had put my hip out of joint. It went downhill from there. Bikes these days are generally bigger than they used to be in my day and my feet would not even touch the ground when I eventually hauled myself into the saddle. This would be a problem when you stopped the bike at lights or other such places. I realised that even if I managed to lower the seat, a top box on the back of the bike would merely increase the height I had to clear. As Bean counter is actually a midget in high heels the only way she could possibly get onto the back of this bike would be with the aid of a step ladder.

The bike is not out of the question but perhaps the model is. One thing is certain, my youth has gone the same way as my old motorbikes, however I may be down but I am most certainly not out.

Watch this space

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

It is still raining. All hope of the jungle that is now my front lawn being cut and neatly manicured has gone out of the window for some time. As usual the skies are grey and the BBC weather website informs me that it is unlikely to change for the next 5 days. It isn’t the cold that bothers me it is the lack of sunshine and we are now over a quarter of the way through the year. With this in mind I have taken one of the most important decisions I am ever likely to make. I am putting my house on the market next year and leaving these shores as soon as it is sold and I have the money in my hand.

I have no idea where I am going to be going but going I shall be and to warmer and sunnier climes where ever in the world that may be. This is not a rash or quick decision, it has been in the back of my mind for some years and I always said that I would not do anything until at least 12 months after my mother’s departure. Having said that next January will be some 15 months later on and January 1st seems like a good date to inform the estate agents to put boards outside the front window.

It is not easy to describe how I feel after having arrived at this decision, there is a feeling of weight off my shoulders but also a lot of apprehension, uncertainty and excitement about the unknown. What I am going to do with all my stuff. Where will I go and what will I do when I get there? Loads of well meaning people have told me not to sell my house and rent it out and live off the income. However I want to sever all ties with this place and move on completely. It is not that I have been unhappy here it is just that I have been here too long and it is time for pastures and adventures new. What happens next?
Watch this space.

I cannot think where he gets this from

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The weather is bleak and the days are cold but at least the clocks have gone forward. Good old British Summer Time is here. Well, at least that is what the calendar says! The reality is that the weather is awful and has prevented work being carried out on the outside of the house. The guttering that arrived just before Easter is still in its wrapping and looking forlorn. In fact the week I took off to coincide with the Easter holidays was a waste of time, except for one thing. My new shed arrived and it was installed with the help of The Beast, Bean Counters Eldest and a lot of liquid inspiration. Working in the cold and wet, old flagstones were lifted and re-laid. This is not an easy job when the rain is washing away any cement you are using to ensure the flags stay in place.

The old shed was moved with a lot of effort to the bottom of the garden and has now become a wood store. This job was not without a lot of drama and Heath Robinson cunning and invention and of course the usual liquid inspiration. Special thanks go to Roger Moor, TB (again) and the use of Little Miss Sunshine’s ladders which were used as a rail track to slide the old shed down the garden and into place. The garden has been tidied up as best as is possible with the weather conditions and the new shed now contains mine and BC’s pushbikes and the aim is to become fit and slim once more by using them.

After all this work it was agreed we needed a treat and so we retired into the house to sit down with a beer or two and watch a film on the new PS3 console. Said film was duly inserted into the PS3 and nothing happened. Well I say nothing happened in fact lots of things happened that should not have. A pink screen was followed by no sound but a picture then sound but no picture and finally nothing. Remembering the old adage that you need a young child to operate most gaming consoles, Roger Moor was despatched to fetch his 10 year old son. Even this talented child could not fix this and so after a lot of head scratching and much consternation followed by venting of spleen I contacted Commander Riker who duly put me in touch with Captain Sony (one half of the Revellers). 30 minutes of talking to CS could not cure the ailments of my pride and joy and it still sat there bleeping and flashing its little lights as if to mock me. I must admit that by this time I had taken a few drams of Milwaukee’s finest to calm my nerves but still managed to tell CS in no uncertain terms that the PS3 was a pile of junk and it was going in the bin and I was going to buy an X Box. This must have jarred something within CS who works for Sony and he promised to come down the following day and take a look at it for me.

True enough the following day (evening actually and 5 hours late, but that’s another story) CR and CS arrived and fixed the damn thing within a few minutes. Apparently when switching this heap of junk on, you only have to touch the on button and not hold it down until something happens or does not in my case. Holding down the on button merely tells the machine to reset itself. After much abuse towards Sony for not supplying a simpler on and off switch I calmed down and it was beers all around. My advice to any one contemplating buying one of these machines is, don’t. They are complicated unreliable and have a mind all of their own. This was pointed out by several X Box owning friends who merely laughed at my predicament with the resounding words of “Told You So”.

Genghis is growing fast both in stature and wisdom. He has become fussy about what he eats and he has learned how to bring mice into the house. I now have to train him to kill them before he brings them home to Daddy. He seems to have made several friends amongst the other cats who frequent my garden and has started to invite them into the kitchen to share his dinner with them. I guess like me he is going to be a really friendly and sociable kind of guy. I cannot think where he gets this from.