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.


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


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


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.

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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