Saturday, 31 December 2011

Farewell 2011

It's a bit sad saying goodbye to you.  You've been an up and down kind of year, but with an awful lot of very dear memories packed into your days and nights. 

2011 is going out in a damp squib weather wise.  It's unseasonably warm though, strange following two such hard winters.  We've taken advantage and been out and about with visitors, Tenby was a great hit. 

Tenby in late December, still beautiful.
Wednesday we decided to walk around the dam (as an antidote to Christmas telly), about 6.5 miles.  Last year we would have required snow boots and sledges.  This year it was a tad damp underfoot due to all the rain we've had just recently, on finishing I was most relieved that we hadn't fallen in the deep muddy tracks; as it was we had to pile in the wet room together - clothes on!

But still nothing puts me off and there's nowhere else I'd rather be all the same.  Which is just as well, as it's here I shall be in 2012.

Brooding skies.
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fuel Poverty

In the UK, fuel poverty is said to occur when in order to heat a home to an adequate standard of warmth a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income to maintain an acceptable heating regime.

Hmmm. Living out in the sticks we don't get access to gas, and therefore cannot benefit from the dual fuel discounts that are offered by many energy companies.  This makes my blood boil, which does help me to keep warm. 

We are not centrally heated... I know when some people walk into our home they think it's cold.  It's going to be.  It's old and has poor energy efficiency.  There are a lot of drafts and thick solid walls.

Her and Him Next Door live in the extension built with modern insulating materials and know how. They do have oil central heating, but this winter are being more economical (they previously kept it turned up high to keep Gran warm and snug). We all now put on that extra jumper instead.

Last time we filled up with oil (2489 litres which services both homes) it cost us an eye watering £1358.73.  This lasts for approximately six months. 

Our family also heats water and cooks with oil.  To compensate for not having the benefit of central heating we increase the Rayburn temperature to keep the core of the house warmer, especially on those very bitter days. 

The oil guzzling monster.
We have two electric radiators to supplement the range, these are situated in the one up, one down part of our home which is our snug and master bedroom (a separate house originally that has been knocked through).  These radiators check out the temperature of the room and do not let it fall below a chosen setting (which can be individually programmed into a seven day variable cycle).  Rather than heating the area, we tend to use the radiators set at a level to just about stop the rooms from actually freezing!

Hopefully our solar panels will also help reduce the hefty electricity bill, which has been approximately £2,200.00 per annum - again for both properties.

The ever watchful radiator...
We are also fortunate enough to have an open fire and a wood burner.  We use the wood burner a lot in the snug (which also negates the electric radiator coming on in the evenings by increasing the room temperature).  We are lucky in that we live surrounded by trees, so have a handy source of wood.  We also find the Ecofan effective, it works by pushing warm air from the wood stove out into the room. Circulating the heat increases efficiency and apparently is particularly effective when the stove is recessed in an inglenook.  It's also free to operate as it's powered simply by the rising heat from the wood burner. 

Our trusty wood burner, with resident Ecofan on top.
In total our fuel has cost us knocking on for £5,000.00 per year between us.  It's a lot of money, no matter how you look at it.  Paying for fuel is making us poor.  I'm going to start knitting that extra thick jumper now; with matching socks and vest.

Post Script
One benefit of our heating 'system' is we'd be fine in a power cut.  Them Next Door would soon be rushing round with their tails between their legs.  Our Rayburn can run without electricity and their fancy pants one cannot - so we'd have some warmth, be able to cook and have gallons of very hot water.  And of course the wood stove would carry on as before.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas austerity (aka Scrooge like tendencies)

Well times are tight... how to economise on the Christmas time spending spree?  Hmmmm.

I'm sorry, try as I might we still shop at Tesco.  One beneficial side effect of this is their double your points offers (part of their reward scheme).  This year I took full advantage and bought some toys and alcohol direct in the store - with vouchers that during a specified period of time can be exchanged for double the face value. I do think you need an A level or something in how to redeem vouchers, but I was on a mission and nothing would deter me from it.

Although I was pleased with myself, I had to go back and buy a toy I didn't really want as I was one penny short of my voucher sum - and you have to spend equal to or more than the total value.  (I was informed of this by someone who took rather too much pleasure at the prospect of making me stand at the back of the five mile queue again).

I bought quite a few gifts at local craft fairs.  Good value for money, locally made.  Result.

I thought about culling the card writing... but still can't bring myself to do it.  We've many visitors over December so all cards and gifts that can be handed out, are being.  Just to save on the postage.

I received a few items ordered from Amazon.  Unfortunately a smashed nail varnish in one parcel ruined the packaging of the other items contained therein.  Amazon replaced immediately and did not want the originals returned.  Of course this is great service and they now have a loyal customer who will continue buying from them.  I have re-packed the affected items myself though and they are still going to be gifted - albeit smelling pungently of ethyl acetate.

G10 is looking to wrap up some pre-loved books to share this Christmas.

If I could I would make beautiful things... but I am just not talented enough.

I try to buy thoughtful presents.  But they will not be expensive things I'm afraid.  J and I rarely buy much for each other - just a small gift so G10 can see us giving and receiving.  This saves us money.  If there is something we particularly need or want we can always treat ourselves in the January sales and pay half the price for it.

We've never bought much for G10 either.  She asks for little.  She is always pleased with whatever she gets.  Certainly until she was 7 or 8 we could have given her a cardboard box and she'd have been happy with that.  We try to save for her regularly though instead.  And of course she has grandparents and a large family that spoil her.  She does OK.  I also think that it's important not to get everything handed to you on a plate just because you asked for it.  Santa has limits.  (Perhaps I'm a cruel mummy). 

I refuse to go into debt over Christmas. 

Ahh the Christmas tree.   Now they have become expensive.  But really it's our only decoration. We have a few other bits and bobs around.  But the tree is predominantly it.  OK I splurged here - but it's a gift to all of us and our friends and family visiting over December and the festive period. 

Nadolig Llawen i pawb.

Our Christmas treat.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Continuity - in one day.

This morning I went to church and passed the newly dedicated seat to Gran and Grandad that Her Next Door had organised.  

Sweethearts together again...
You've seen lots of pictures of Gran, but here is Grandad in his younger days looking very smart in his Scout uniform. And next to him my daughter G10 wearing her Guide outfit ready to take part in a concert and play her violin this afternoon.  She's following in Grandad's footsteps and made us all here, and those looking down on her, very proud.    

My lovely Grandad as a King's Scout circa 1930 and G10 today.

Friday, 11 November 2011

No Man's Land

When either J, G10 or myself are out, Topsy likes to sit on the curve of the stairs.  This is so she can wait and watch for the door at the same time.  Only when we are back altogether again will she join us and sit in front of the fire in the snug.

A family dog.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Letter T

This week's prompt over at Taras is the letter T. Well I had two this morning... tense and trees.

I became a little bit agitated when G10 at the last minute before leaving for school, decided she had to take a memory box to Guides this evening (and she is not coming home in between times).  Scrabbling around to find items to go in (and take out - really why a plastic dinosaur?)  Of course we had to share a moment to wonder and stare at G10's first baby grow.  Was she ever so tiny?  I felt quite broody.  For a nanosecond.

Anyway I digress. 

The next panic was trying to find G10's spellings.  We hunted high and low, I accused J of having them last so it was obviously all his fault.  Actually he hadn't and it wasn't but I was blowed if I was going to admit that.  At the very last second we found the errant spellings in Them Next Door's place.  Even though G10 had looked there herself - I've come to the conclusion that she really does not have eyes that see.

Anyway I was stressed and a little bit tense.  As I walked towards the office I could hear the stream... sounding louder than normal due to the drop torrents of rain we've had recently.

I thought to myself, take 5.  So I took 5; I stopped and stared at the magical light that the soft sunshine and slight mist were creating in the trees and the soothing sounds of rushing streams cascading down the valley.  Then all was right with the world again.

The wood looking exceptionally beautiful this morning.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Are we making any money?

Thought you might be vaguely interested agog to know how we are doing with our new solar PV panels.

Well here goes, I've had to use the calculator so hopefully all figures are correct.  If you notice any glaring mistakes feel free to let me know, maths has never been my strong point.

The two weeks before we had the panels fitted we consumed:-
279
185 kWh

Then the two weeks after (I've disregarded the week we had them fitted as mid week) we consumed:-
137
119 kWh

No actual sunshine, but still generating.

For the full four weeks we've been 'live' we have generated:-
33.8
29.2
43.7
30.8 kWh respectively.

That's a total of 137.5 kWh units (not bad for October).  For each unit generated we receive 43.3 pence, plus a further 3.1 pence for any kWh exported back to the grid.  Our FIT electricity supplier calculates the export figure simply by halving the figure we generate.

That means in cold hard cash terms for this four week period we will receive a total of £61.67 tax free from the government, for both the kWh generated and exported under the FIT scheme.

On top of generating and exporting we are also of course reducing our electricity bill by using as much as we can when we generate, so for example I delay my washing machine to come on when the sun is up and plug in all mobile devices to recharge their batteries in the day.  The daytime energy consumption is helped by the fact that there are four of us at home in the day, throughout the day.  

How we work out exactly how much we are reducing our electricity cost is a little difficult to calculate as there could be times when we do not use absolutely all of the energy generated.  I thought instead, simply as an interesting exercise, I'd contrast last year's readings from our electricity meter against this year's readings.
 
October          1st Week      2nd Week         3rd Week      4th Week       Total Used
2010               183                223                    270               237                 913
2011               137                119                    135               203                 594

In short a saving of 319 kWh.  All the reduction of kWh usage in this comparison obviously cannot be put down solely to the installation of the solar PV panels, other variable factors should be taken into account.  For example; external temperature conditions, general home energy conservation strategies implemented, whether we were home in the evenings etc. Still I like the figures.

One last little thing.  I still haven't got used to seeing how our home energy monitor now sometimes goes down when we switch a light on. That's simply because when we are generating more than we are using the monitor reflects the credit available.  When we switch something on, the figure on the monitor reduces because that electrical item consumes some of the generated electricity available for free use.

The Inverter
IMPORTANT: Government reducing FIT payments soon?

There is a rumour that from December 12th 2011, the tariff payment will reduce to 21p/kWh for solar photovoltaic systems of up to 4kW.  I found this information on the energy saving trust website, note that this proposal is not final.

Falling costs in solar installation, (the Government) quoting a fall from £13,000 to £9,000 for an average system since the tariffs began, mean that homeowners should still see a decent rate of return on their investment, quoting figures of around 5% return. But that's well shy of the 10% return owners are currently getting.  In short if you are considering it ACT NOW.

Bear in mind too that it can take some time for your application for FITs to be received by your FIT licensee (FIT electricity supplier).  It will of course always be after the date on which your PV system is installed.  

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Faces

The theme over at The Gallery this week is Faces.

The first picture albeit from a few years back, was taken at the Bristol International Kite Festival held at Ashton Court, a really fantastic family day out and highly recommended.  So many faces to see and wonder at up in the sky.  There are also plenty of beer tents which helps to oil adult relaxation.  You can eat there of course - the choice of eateries and the smells emanating from them is mouth watering, or like us you can take your own picnic.  

Simply relax and watch the amazing displays above you. 
The next two are of G10 in Majorca when she was about 4.  She was born in water and has been a water babe ever since.  Him Next Door (aka Grampy) has helped pass on this love of all things water related and you can see the pure joy of this in her little face.


Unadulterated Joy.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A personal thank you to the exhibitors at Maenclochog Craft Fayre

The room was made beautiful, thanks to all the exhibitor's displays. 

From healing massages to Aloe Vera products, jewellery and beads to personalised and special cards, weaving to cross stitch, toys to driftwood art, make-up to skin care, bags and aprons, handmade bunting, Christmas decorations, towels, cottons and ribbons, woollen items, door stops, jams, pickles, honey and wonderful cakes.  The list goes on.

Llysyfran church members doled out tea and coffee and at lunchtime delicious home grown and home made soup, ran a raffle, manned a 'nearly new stall' and provided a children's play room with activities.  The children had a whale of a time.

If nothing else the day proved that this area around Maenclochog is full of little treasures when it comes to artistic, creative and business skills. I really believe as a community it's so important to support our small and local businesses; use them or lose them!  They can't be matched for personal service, their carbon footprint is small and money spent with them stays in the local economy.  A win all round.

It was great for me to meet all the stall holders personally and I can't thank everyone enough for the effort that was put in to the day. 

Beautiful displays.   Inset: "Kathryn's Krèche"
It was quieter in the afternoon; I blame the rugby (we lost), the weather (it was a beautiful day) and apparently there was also a YFC Eisteddfod on too. 

Still we managed to raise over £600.00.  Not bad.  We hope to do a similar event next year.   We'll build on the feedback from our exhibitors and the things we've learned ourselves.  Taking everything into consideration it promises to be an even bigger and better Craft Fayre for the local community to enjoy in 2012.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Hellraising...

It's nearly here.  The big day.  The title got your attention huh?  Actually it's fundraising; but at times it's felt like hell.

I have been working tirelessly, well on and off, for it seems like months.  I started in August, it's now October... gosh it really has been months.

There are only a few of us who attend our little church, and although I am not particularly religious I do like the community it helps to bring together and the building itself is beautiful.  And whoever you conceive Him to be it is his house - you can feel that.

St Meilyr's Church; rather beautiful.
I outlined my thoughts of a fundraising day on the church website and the interest started rolling in.  So much so that we've had to hire an extra room at Maenclochog Community Hall.  All good but still I'm panicking a little about how to cram all the exhibitors inside.  Luckily Claire (from Cake Carousel) has been a star.  Having laid on similar such events before she's in the know and is cool, calm and collected.  I don't know where I'd be without her help.

Lists are everywhere... thank goodness for the computer as they are continuously being remodeled.

I'll still forget something though.

Him Next Door has been very busy producing flyers and posters to advertise the event.  They've gone up everywhere and been handed out to anything that moves.  We've advertised in the local Community News and on Radio Pembrokeshire.  Her Next Door and I have leafleted all the local villages and the myriad of houses in between.  Notably every single one of them seemed to have a long drive and a letterbox that eats fingers for fun.  Oh and the dogs.  It really wasn't worth risking life and limb for at one particular house - so I retreated gracefully, never turning my back on the whirling dervish.

My biggest worry is that nobody will turn up to browse or buy.  Bit like arranging a huge party and it ending up resembling the Marie Celeste.  I shall feel totally responsible to all the lovely exhibitors (they are my children now) and I will be on tenterhooks all day.  If they do badly I suspect they won't be coming back next year.  (Oh yes I'm thinking of making this an annual event).  The other (admittedly smaller) worry is that we become too busy and every one ends up squeezed in to the hall, like sardines.  Unable to see what's on offer, people in their droves simply turn their backs and leave.  Empty handed.  Stuff of nightmares. 

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my time after Saturday; but I sure as hell will get a better night's sleep.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Strike? Not in this house.

Violin with Him Next Door.
Maths-Whizz with Her Next Door.
Cooking with Daddy (cooking with Mummy would be a non starter).
Spellings and reading (Welsh and English) with Mummy.
Cycling with Daddy.

G10 checking her spellings.
G10 will be glad when today's strike called by the teaching union Ucac, is over... she can go back to school for a rest tomorrow.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

How satisfying....


Sun shining, first day off the grid generating our own electricity.

Green light means we're generating.  kWh reading stopped in its tracks.


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Community Spirit and Energy

Last weekend we went out to the Narberth Food Festival.  What a delight, so much to tempt us, luckily we hadn't eaten and treated ourselves to some wild boar burgers.  Mighty fine they were too.  The sights, sounds and smells were divine.

We also went to Llangolman's Church fundraising.  They were holding a Michaelmas Fair.  St Colman's Church is a sister church to St Meilyrs and both are part of the West Preseli Group of Churches.  I think it's great when we come together sometimes to support each other.  It builds community cohesion and makes you feel part of something much larger.

Sunday Her Next Door and I walked for two miles to take part in a 24hr, 90 mile sponsored walk/run to celebrate 90 years of the British Legion.  It was so well supported that in fact the anchor of the whole event walked 100 miles.  Well done Carwyn Phillips - very impressive.  I hope lots of money was raised for such a wonderful cause. 

Now we are just having our solar panels fitted.  Yesterday the raw materials were delivered and today they've gone up on the garage roof.  Amazingly quick.  I shall update you on the amount of energy that we can actually use for free and the money we recoup once we're plugged into the grid.  We have opted to purchase and take full advantage of the Feed-in Tariff.


A more interesting view than normal.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Walking with invisible friends.

I was supposed to meet my friend with other friends of hers at 9:45 to walk around the Llysyfran Dam.  As usual I was a few minutes late - and I only have to fall out of my front door.  At five minutes to ten though unable to see my friend's car in the designated car park (there were only two cars and even I couldn't have missed it) I set off.  I reasoned that perhaps she'd been given a lift.  As it was a circular walk I thought I'd step out promptly and either catch them up or meet them half way if they'd set off in the other direction.  Neither happened.  It's a mystery.  Maybe I should have confirmed... hmmm.

The path just enticed me further in and I had a thoroughly lovely walk in my own little world.

Follow me; where ever I might lead.

Come on Mum
 A spot to stop and remember Mrs B.
'Blaen Wern' (Love Divine) played at Gran's funeral.
I came back refreshed, energised and feeling that everything is right with the world.   So sincerely, thank you my friend.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Autumn is setting in.

On Saturday G10, Topsy and myself went for a lovely walk on Carn Bica in the Preseli Hills, with the wonderful Mags and her gorgeous family.  You can read all about it here, instead I'll just share a photograph with you.  Suffice for me to say it was lovely to have a guided tour of the world on my doorstep with some history thrown in. 

A view to lift your spirits - looking Cardigan way.
Afterwards we were treated to pizza (home made of course) at Maggie's house.  I was mortified when one member of my family let the side down and had a wee on the kitchen mat!  There's gratitude after being fed.  Honestly - we'll never be invited back (which would be rather a shame as it's the most wonderful place on earth with mouth watering treats being baked non stop). 

Autumn really does seem to be beating a hasty path to our door now, the leaves are falling all around us and there is definitely a chill in the air at night.  The evenings are drawing in too.  I'm feeling a bit fed up lately, and this might have something to do with it.  I am most definitely a summer solstice kind of girl.

One of my guilty pleasures is to remain in my dressing gown and to snuggle down in the spare bedroom and watch inane television for a few hours in between eating snacks; if they have chocolate on them even better.  I like my own company, but sometimes I can overdose.  I'm lucky I have wonderful friends and family and I live in such a magical, stunning place; which when I manage to get out in it can't fail to lift my spirits.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Sometimes

Don't you want to escape from the world sometimes?  I do.

At the moment it'd be nice to hibernate - it's all a bit overwhelming.   

This is the yurt we stayed in on our little bank holiday break.  I could live there forever in its womb like warmth away from modern day life.  Wouldn't life be a lot simpler, cheaper and a whole lot less stressful?



Our temporary oasis...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mrs Edith Barnett 1910 - 2011

A celebration of Gran's life - she can be so very proud of her own little dash.

The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.

Gran, always the life and soul.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard;
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

© 1996 Linda Ellis  http://www.lindaellis.net/

Here's to you Gran, I shall wear the rainbow.   
Anyone whose life you touched will always love and remember you. x

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Holiday - what holiday

Long lazy holiday, scratch that, one long mad balancing act.

G10 at play...
(main pic; she did not go out in brown).
We seem to have been a bit of a hotel for the whole of the summer holidays so far, great but busy.  Last lot of visitors just left us on Tuesday, then after the bank holiday more are arriving to stay for a few weeks.

With G9 G10 off doing exciting activities here, there and everywhere; (it's amazing what Pembrokeshire County Council offer and we've taken full advantage of the opportunities provided, along with various other activities out there, some free like the Purple Routes Project and others not so, like horse riding.)  Along with all the visitors and ferrying G10 about we've been helping to care for Gran and oh yes, work of course (house and paid.)

On top of all this I volunteered (I really must be certifiable) to help with the fundraising at St Meilyr's Church.  We're organising a Craft & Art's Fair (interested - either as a stall holder or to come and spend your money on the day?  If you might be then click St Meilyrs for more information - you'd be so very welcome.) Just to put the tin lid on it, I've also been going to summer school for Welsh. 

I am TIRED!  We've got a three day break coming up. Hurrah.  Not sure what's happening yet but we're going to be terribly selfish and spend it together, but deliciously alone.  Just the three of us.  Doing... not a lot I hope.

Here is a picture of another project completed (squeezed in the five minutes we've had free in the last 5 months!)  New roof over the hot-tub and water barrel at the end to take the water from the new guttering away.  It will all be much easier to water the pots down there now.

Looking smart, even if I'm not.
Just a quick thank you to PreseliMags for organising the horse riding.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Care Homes

Her Next Door was in tears last night... Gran's catheter has been playing up and it's been quite distressing trying to sort it out.  We have now decided to leave it out for a while - but this means we have to get Gran on the commode more often - ourselves.  This is hard physical work which is often done by Her Next Door, and is made even more difficult at four in the morning.  Of course life becomes a series of mountains to climb when you are tired and exhausted.

Something has to give, so with a firm hand I took Her Next Door out to look at a couple of local care homes for respite care (we are entitled to six weeks a year.)  We went unannounced and chose a couple located within 15 to 20 minutes drive from us.

I'm forcing myself to like them, there is essentially nothing at all wrong with them.  They were both in beautiful settings, the dignity of the residents preserved and the buildings themselves well cared for and maintained.  We found both the proprietors were genuine and the ambiance of the homes relaxed and caring.   By Her Next Door's high standards she was pleased with the quality, (she is comparing them to others she looked at once in a different area for someone else.) 

The trouble is, no matter how pleasant they are they can't ever be home from home and the guilt feelings rise up like bile in your mouth.  Her Next Door said a little sheepishly in the car on the way home; "I think I can cope, there's no need for Gran to go."  I am being strong for Her Next Door as she really, really needs a break.  It will not be good for anybody, Gran most of all, if Her Next Door becomes ill through sleep deprivation and sheer physical exhaustion.

Benefits for Gran include a proper bath, pedicure and hair styling - as well as her own room.  It will only be for a week at a time and she can have visitors at anytime.  Does it sound like I am trying to convince myself.  I am.  It's hard. 


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The ups and downs of the start to the school holidays

We've had some pretty good weather, then came the school holiday and it started to rain.  Typical.

We bought G9 a birthday present and gave it to her early so she can get the most use out of it. (Her birthday is at the end of August, just when the school holidays are drawing to a close). 

It's very bouncy and very large and is for outside use.  This particular purchase is really all the fault of Preseli Mags.  H9 and R7 have one now, so after a go on theirs it then became a bit of a must have for G9, darn. 

I too also had a go on Mags' "bouncy thing" and I found I rather enjoyed it, (this has positively nothing to do with the fact that we succumbed to G9's pleadings you understand.)


My G9's early present.

Our first problem was location.  Our garden is not football pitch material.  When we did manage to find somewhere that only gently sloped and would accommodate near enough the dimensions of the base, we found that we were supposed to have an extra 3 metres around it free - so as to be well away from life threatening trees, concrete, water - you get the idea.  Eventually we settled on some ground in the orchard and an ingenious way to create a level; attach wooden 'feet' to the frame on the one side and bury the legs of the trampoline on the other.  Not sure Health and Safety would entirely approve, but it works.

After getting in a bit of a muddle initially J eventually capitulated and read the instructions, and G9 was instructed in the art of "sewing" the base to the netting.  It took a couple of days (with the men diverted to another project in the middle of this), but our piece of modern garden architecture is finally up, finished and ready to have a go on.

Shame of it is that G9's had very little chance to use it yet.  I've had secret sessions after dark though.  Shhhh, don't tell.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mornings could be worse...


Photographs were taken at corresponding points A and B on the map below.

Went out for my run, early this morning.  Wow, it's good for the spirit.  I've been running along the roads this time as I'm not sure if the uneven surface around the reservoir had been contributing to my previous injuries.  I'm in denial that it's anything to do with my age.  I've also invested in yet another new pair of shoes, but this time I went for some advice at TriExercise in Haverfordwest.  I must admit I bought them some time ago, but have for the last month or so been gradually wearing them in.

This time I've started by just doing a few kilometres, three in all by the looks of the map below.  The route is flat(ish) and I head out three times a week to incorporate rest days between sessions.  I've increased my distance just very slightly over the last few runs and will perhaps add a little more in the very near future.  Slow and steady though.

MapMyRUN

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Carmen at Rhos-y-Gilwen

We have just returned from the most magical evening.  Her and Him Next Door bought myself and J a night at the opera at Rhosygilwen Mansion for a birthday treat.  We were both opera virgins and not entirely sure what the night might bring.

When we arrived Glen (the owner) invited us out on the lawn for tea.  What a delight.  Even more special was a private guided tour round his new solar park, which had only been turned on the day before.  I love the fact that amongst all this high tech, sheep will be installed to keep the grass down.  There are 12 lines of almost 10,000 solar panels all in a six-acre field, with a gap between each wide enough so that shade does not ever cast its shadow on the line behind.  It should provide enough energy to power 300 homes.  An impressive venture and a sight to behold. 

Solar farm.
After this tour we got ready to watch Carmen. I was (rather surprisingly) completely engrossed.  For me personally Justina Gringyte who played Carmen stood out.  Her voice was spine tingling good.  Although the opera was predominantly in French and Welsh, you didn't have to understand either to grasp the plot because the acting was definitely first class; the facial expressions were a delight to watch.  I have to admit it helped that the little bit of dialog between each aria was in English.  The whole opera was very moving and I sincerely didn't want it to end. 

Half way through we had an interval.  Some people brought a picnic and dined outside in the beautiful gardens.  We were lucky enough to sit down in the conservatory to a three course meal with a never ending supply of alcohol.   We ate with the lighting director amongst others.  He said we'd notice his efforts more in the second half as he wouldn't be working against God and his light show, (it was a beautiful, balmy, sunny evening).

The following morning we had breakfast with Glen's family and friends, I believe we were the only two 'outside' visitors staying overnight due to the opening of the solar park.  The tables were laid out in groups of at least six so we had a very chatty and interesting time meeting even more people.  We were made to feel most welcome and Glen came to sit with us at our table, which made us feel that little bit extra special too. 

The Mansion
The Mansion really is a refuge, so peaceful and the most friendly, relaxed place.  We didn't feel like paying guests at all, just guests.  I would highly recommend a stay at Rhosygilwen if you need a break from life in the fast lane.  We are most certainly planning to return.  There are a lot of music and art delights in their programme to pick from, enough choice to suit all tastes - or try something new.  It's worth it. 

This post is not sponsored, I was just seriously impressed.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Solar Energy

We are seriously considering installing solar PV panels to help combat the rising electricity costs.  Being in a remote location we do not have the luxury of mains gas and cannot therefore take advantage of dual fuel discounts offered by the Utility companies.  (This is inherently unfair I believe as we cannot possibly have dual fuel).  We use a fair amount of electricity and our alternative to gas is oil.  We do luckily have a wood burning stove to heat the sitting room in the winter.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels convert the light into electricity, which you can use to power your home during the day (so it is then a good idea to run all your expensive electrical gadgets during this time). There is a tariff (known as the 'Feed-in Tariff' - FIT) available at the moment which makes it very attractive to install.  You receive a guaranteed fixed price for each unit of electricity generated (even if you use it yourself), plus a further payment for each unit of energy not required.  As you can't store the excess energy you can export (sell) it back to the National Grid.  At night and if you need more power than the panels generate, the excess comes off the grid, exactly as it did before the panels were fitted.  These FIT payments are in addition to the savings on electricity bills made by using electricity generated at home.

The Energy Saving Trust (EST) assess that a typical family can make some money.  They note that profitability will be affected by whether you're at home during the day, the system size and the location.

We believe that our savings will probably be higher than a typical family as there are five of us who are at home in the day.  We are looking to install just less than 4kWp too on a roof which faces SSW.  The other factor to bear in mind of course is that the electricity prices are only going to go one way and that is up.

Feed-in Tariffs (FITs).  An illustration of the finances.
A typical domestic solar electricity system, with an installation size of 2.7 kWp could earn around:-
  • £990 per year from the Generation Tariff.  (FIT)
  • £40 per year from the Export Tariff.  (FIT)
  • £140 per year reduction in current electricity bills.

Or another way of looking at it - figures are for Solar Photovoltaic 0 to 4 kW (Retro-fit):-
  • For every kWh you Generate you receive 43.3 pence.  (FIT)
  • For every kWh you Export (i.e. sell) a further 3.1 pence per kWh will be made for each unit not used and exported to the grid.  (FIT)
  • For every kWh you generate and use in the home will contribute to the reduction of your energy bills.
Obviously do your own sums.
Notes: The Generation Tariff is lower if your installation is greater than 4kWp.
The Export Tariff does not have to be paid from the energy company who supplies your electricity, you can choose a different energy company.  Some companies do not measure the actual amount fed back into the grid but assume a 50% export.
The FIT payments will also rise with inflation and are tax free.
The Government guarantees that the electricity companies must pay the Feed-in Tariff from solar PV for 25 years.
To be eligible for FITs you must have your system installed by a Microgeneration Certification Scheme member as electricity companies will only pay for the Feed-in Tariff if you use an MCS certificated installer and product.
EST predicts Feed-in Tariffs are "likely to be significantly reduced for systems installed after 1 April 2012". So if the sums do add up for you, you may want to act quickly.

Energy companies will install the PV panels for free, but for this they will receive the Feed-in Tariff themselves.  Using the above figures this will be approx 1,030 a year.  If you can afford the initial outlay of typically around £12,000 it will be more economical for you to keep the feed-in payments, which could net you £25,750 over 25 years. 

We can split the purchase costs here between the families; J and myself to pay half and Him and Her Next Door to pay the other half.  By reducing our own personal outlay for the solar panels this proposition seems even more attractive to me.

The left hand side of the garage roof may house the PV panels.
We have also looked at wind technology in the past but we do not have enough wind here to make it a viable alternative.  Experts say that you need an average wind speed of 8-14 miles per hour for your system to operate effectively.  We used an anemometer which had a data logging device that output to a PC (you can buy devices that have solar and wind data combined now).  We placed it on the top of the garage for 6 months, our most exposed outbuilding, but the results were disappointing.  You might find EST's field trial report on domestic wind turbines an interesting read if you want to evaluate the possibilities for yourself - click the 'Download  PDF' link.  We do have room for just under 4kWp of solar PV panels on our garage roof though which faces an advantageous SSW, so along with the fact that most of us either work from home or are retired, the figures really do seem to start to stack up.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Grandparents

The topic this week at Sticky Fingers is grandparents.

We are overrun with grandparents in our multi-generational household.  Her and Him Next Door are grandparents to G9 (Her Next Door likes to be called Grumpy by her grandchildren, I really can't comment further on this) and Gran is my grandmother.

They bring a third dimension to family life which enriches it greatly and in their own way they spread fairy dust to make every day that extra bit special. 

Perfect love sometimes does not come till the first grandchild. - Welsh Proverb

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Invasions

We've got bats, had wasps, mice and rats and are now currently dealing with ants again.  They are living in the wall of the house. 

We think The Booth was built around 1730, (Her & Him Next Door and Gran live in a very modern self contained extension).  Our part of the house was originally two separate dwellings.  At some point the two buildings were knocked into one and the 'lower' part you see in the picture below is now our bedroom and sitting room.  It was originally we believe just a single room with a mezzanine, access to upstairs was by a ladder.  This may have been ‘The Shop’.  It is this one up, one down part that seems to attract most of the wildlife.

Last night the flying ants were inside trying to get out. I didn't take a photo, I was rather keen on just trying to evacuate them.  We are in the process of trying to seal up all the holes, not an easy job.  There are a lot of holes to contend with.

c1901
We've had birds too, often in the conservatory.  Last week it was a Magpie.  Huge thing.  Made a bit of a mess of the soft furnishings and the dog always thinks it's a great game of tag.  Last week for the first time we had a rather close encounter from a visiting juvenile robin who ventured inside the spare bedroom.

Temporary house guest
One of the differences I've found being in the country is that you get much more up front and personal with the nature around you.  Living in an old property in the 21st century also brings its own compromises and adaptations.  But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Make do and mend

G9 sat down to watch her pre-recorded programmes... zilch, nowt, nothing.  She wrote to Channel 4; disgusted from Llysyfran.  Then we thought we'd better look closer to home and checked the PVR and found it was unable to pick up any Freeview signal.  We changed the aerial cable and then tried plugging the aerial directly into the PVR, still nothing (digital TV was receiving the signal fine).  J surmised the tuner had gone west but thought it worth taking the box apart as it really is pretty useless without the Freeview (we no longer have Analogue in our area).  The Panasonic DMR-EX95V DVD/VHS/HDD recorder is a few years old now, but when I looked on the Internet for something comparable we're up in the £400.00 range.  Yikes. 

As we were definitely way out of warranty what had we to lose?  Removing the lid we found a blown capacitor - C1808.  Can you see the culprit with the brown gunk coming out the top in the picture below?  (Apparently they fail in a controlled manner, there is a weak spot on the top of the capacitor so rather than exploding they burble).  The cost of five of these comes to a grand total of  £1.88 (we bought from RS Components).  Worth a go I think.


We snipped the old capacitor off at the 'legs' to save removing the whole motherboard.

The new (bottom) and the old capacitor - rated 6.3V, 680µF. 
The arrows\stripe depict the negative side & the 'leg' is shorter. 

Then we just cut away some of the length of the new capacitor and soldered this to the cut off 'legs' that were still poking up from the old - making sure the polarity was correct.

The 'legs' soldered together.
Success.  Hurrah, we have Freeview channels again and can record G9's programmes to our heart's content.

Special thanks must go to Dave who pointed us in the right direction with his blog post How I saved (about) £400 on a new PVR (Personal Video Recorder).  Please heed the warning at the top of his blog and if in any doubt at all, ask a professional.
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