Raging torrent (small scale)

When we moved into our home, we noticed a small ditch at the end of the garden (which is actually above the level of our house). Our neighbours have partly infilled it to extend their garden, putting in a good-sized culvert as they did so.

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time since we have lived here, I noticed a trickle of water running through it. Even in mid-winter, I hadn’t seen water in it before.

Last night and this morning we had continuous and very heavy rain. We don’t have a gauge, so I’ve no idea how much has fallen, but I’d guess an inch-and-a-half at least, maybe two inches. In a lull in the rain, I went outside to assess the damage (smashed plants, mud down the drive) and could plainly hear rushing water. A glimpse into the hedge revealed a raging torrent (albeit on a small scale) rushing down the ditch, enough to draw our neighbours out to investigate. In true BBC-stylee “here’s-a-picture-of-my-dog’s-bottom-in-a-puddle-to-illustrate-the-dramatic-weather” citizen journalism, here is a dramatic grainy cameraphone photo of said torrent:

dramatic grainy image

Impressed? Today, Ruralville and grayblog, tomorrow fame and fortune and a photo on the Beeb.

Vibrant local democracy

I’ve just been for a short stroll across the Ruralville village green to the Village Hall. There, I placed two Xs on a ballot paper (I always find multiple choice questions to be much easier), reflecting my views on local issues and not on national ones.

Ruralville is a small ward, with around 250 voters. Voting here is never a chore, as there is never a queue and the short stroll is a chance to enjoy the view down the valley, admire the spring colours of the trees and listen to the cuckoos (birds, not politicians). The two ladies looking after polling today were not anticipating a high turnout (“we spotted you coming across the green, so we had a moment to hide our teas and paperbacks!”), although I did find another voter entering as I left the polling station, doubling the turnout.

The question is, in a district where the council has been held by one party for 37 years, is it important to vote? Well, clearly the answer must be “yes”. If you are a supporter of the incumbents, then it is important that they have a clear mandate from the electorate to carry out their policies. If you do not support them, then clearly the only way to force change (excluding the possibility of riots on the streets or showering the local council offices with manure) is to use your vote and support an opposing candidate. And, since this is about local politicians applying policies at a local level, issues such as war, income tax and the NHS shouldn’t really come into it.

So, no matter what your politics are, if there is voting to be done in your ward today, go and use your vote. If you don’t and I then catch you moaning about some aspect of local services, don’t be surprised if I come round and give you a stern talking to.

Ce n’est pas un fait accompli

I understand that following some of the links that I’ve posted recently on this site, people are wondering what is going on in our lives. So I’d like to clear up a few things.

  • yes, we’re thinking about moving.
  • no, we will not be moving for some time, at least two years.
  • yes, we are looking at the Netherlands. Why? Because houses are considerably cheaper there and we want to reduce the amount of our income that we spend on our mortgage each month. In addition, a lot of my work is in the Netherlands (at least as much as is in the UK), we like it there and it was recently ranked the best industrialized nation in which to bring up a child by the UN (compared to the UK which was ranked the worst nation).
  • BUT, it is not a certainty that we will move there. At the moment, we are deeply involved in research which includes:
  1. working out where to live
  2. deciding what we can afford
  3. looking at what mortgage we could get
  4. investigating employment options for Hels
  5. sussing out education and childcare facilities
  6. language, running a business, mortgage system, property law, tax system – everything! There are lots of hidden factors to consider.
  • IF we go there, then we would rent for at least one year to test the water – and if it didn’t work out, we could move back to England or to another place.
  • we are also investigating other alternatives – in every town we visit, in the UK and abroad, we always look through estate agent windows, partly out of unbridled noseyness and curiosity and partly out of serious research to see what property we could afford if we moved to that area. So far our research has shown that moving within the south east of England would not improve our lot – either we’d still have a vast mortgage or we’d be in Ramsgate.
  • in any case, whatever we decide, we have a whole bunch of factors to consider. These include but are not limited to (and in no particular order):
  1. Tom – particularly the environment and education/childcare
  2. us – we want a nice house in a relatively green neighbourhood (i.e. not a concrete neighbourhood) with a little garden and enough room for us to not be under each other’s feet
  3. work – both for me and for Hels as, without work that we enjoy and which pays reasonably, our life would be poorer in terms of quality or money or both
  4. family – we are close to both sides of the family and we want to be somewhere that is relatively easy for them to access, including by public transport
  5. cats – they’re important too! So no main road homes for us and always at least a little garden, even if/when we rent.

So you see that nothing is certain. Well, almost nothing. The only thing that is certain is that the current fixed rate period on our mortgage expires on 31 December 2008, which is why there is a window of opportunity for moving around that time and into early 2009 (if we move before then, we have to pay a heavy penalty to our lender when we redeem the mortgage) – and we don’t want to leave it much later than that as we want to get Tom settled in a new home before he starts school. The reason for moving is also fairly certain – we want to move in order to achieve either a reduction in our mortgage liability and/or an increase in our living space.

Even the “when” is not guaranteed. As we all know, events have a habit of overtaking one’s plans, so we have no idea what might happen over the next two years. I think the only thing that is likely to remain constant is the “why”. The “what”, “where” and even the “how” are all still to be decided.

At the moment, the mission is research. And with a life-change of this magnitude, I think anyone would agree that we need to be thorough and use all the time available to our advantage.

Big bang

You may have seen today’s news about a large fire at a fireworks warehouse in East Sussex, with its sad outcome.

Our home is approximately 10 kilometres from the site of the fire. We had already heard distant sirens as fire crews and ambulances headed for the scene (although at that time we had no idea what the cause was). Then the house was rocked by a massive blast – big enough to shake the whole building, scaring up the cats and local birds and causing at least one other of my neighbours to come out to see what had happened. Goodness knows what it must have been like to be closer to the explosion.

Rural fuel

This story sounds awfully familiar. Our home is heated with bottled gas which is even more expensive than either bulk-delivered LPG or oil, the options described in the article. Each bottle costs us nearly £40 and, in deep mid-winter when there is nightly frost, we can get through a bottle in six days. Do the maths. We can’t upgrade to either of the bulk options without investing in a (costly) tank plus associated plumbing. You find that, after the first bill arrives, you quickly learn to put on a thicker sweater insted of turning up the thermostat. Our wood-fuelled stove is also a great friend.

In addition, as the article hints, those of us living in rural areas, even though we are only a short distance from two small towns, have to use cars every day as there is no realistic public transport alternative. There is a weekday bus, but it runs only once per hour, goes only to one of the neighbouring towns and starts too late and finishes too early to be of any value to commuters. Bizarrely, it calls at the nearby railway station before coming to our village, so you can’t use it to hook up with the rail service. I’ve never actually counted them all, but our road consists of 31 properties but yet must be home to at least sixty cars. Parking is a nightmare.

Now, I’m not expecting government handouts to help us out (although there could be more help to encourage people to insulate their homes and make them more fuel-efficient – this would both help them financially and reduce emissions). But a realisation of the problem in government and elsewhere would be a good thing. As suggested in the article, villages like ours are often home to those on very low wages (farm workers, for example) and how they manage, I really don’t know (actually, I do – they have wood-fuelled stoves and take wood home from the farm as a "perk". But that doesn’t heat your water or cook your dinner).

Implied presumption

I always find this sort of news story interesting:

Police searching for a missing East Sussex pensioner in West Africa have said they have found a body.  

William West, 76, of St Helen’s Park in Hastings, had been with his wife Kate, 26, at their holiday home in Gambia.

The couple were on a day trip to Senegal when he disappeared after going into a shop on his own on 3 July.

Sussex Police said Gambian police had contacted them after a body was found. Four people are helping authorities abroad with their inquiries.

A spokesman for the Sussex force said the four people were a 26-year-old woman and three men.

With the information released and the tone of the reporting, we are led to believe, as readers, that the wife has bumped off her husband in an African country. Our imagination takes us on to the notion that she might have done it for the insurance money or to escape an unhappy marriage of convenience. Perhaps she chose an African country in the belief that the criminal investigation system there might not reach her. Already, we’ve bounded to the conclusion that she is guilty – we have been conditioned to do so by years of this sort of reporting and our own prejudices.

The truth, of course, could be vastly different. He may well have been the victim of a random attack. He could have died from some entirely non-violent cause. She may be as innocent as a newborn lamb, truly distraught at the loss of her husband. In fairness, we can not say because we are not party to all of the facts and won’t be until the trial (if there is one) is reported in due course.

Tabloid journalism has a lot to answer for. We assume guilt too often.


Quick post:

  • thanks to Charlie and The Peet for my excellent Neotropic CD.
  • thanks also to the Uborka Two for Winter Chill 2.
  • thanks to family for gifts of cash, clothing and olive oil – all appreciated.
  • thanks to Hels for Gnarls Barkley, clothing and cake.
  • spent Friday at Wakehurst Place – thoroughly enjoyable another opportunity to put the buggy through its paces (it passed with flying colours).
  • Friday evening involved a fantastic meal out – if anyone needs a recommendation for a fabulous meal in East Sussex, drop me a line.
  • Saturday was spent gardening, painting and erecting trellis for the most part.
  • Sunday was spent at Pashley Manor Gardens for the Plant Fair – not one of the best that I’ve had there, but I think some lessons were learned that will lead to changes before August.

Ways to spend Good Friday (number 35 in a series)

  • get up early
  • study BBC online weather forecast – observe white fluffy cloud symbol and yellow sun symbol and assume the day is set fair
  • saw logs so as to make them more woodpile-friendly
  • create new border in the garden
  • go to nearby farm to purchase a sack of well rotted cow poo for said border for one of your fine English pounds
  • apply poo to new border
  • get changed from poo-ey clothes
  • welcome brother-in-law to house
  • drive to extremely nice nearby public house
  • park car
  • strap small child to chest in slightly bizarre harness device
  • walk in opposite direction to public house wiuth a view to making a large circuit, returning to said public house with hearty appetite for fine ales
  • observe rapidly deteriorating weather conditions
  • wade through mud, fight brambles, attempt to pacify child – all in steady rain and a cool breeze – whilst cheerfully reassuring one another that the weather "will blow over in a minute and surely improve"
  • reach a farm with a large barn
  • take shelter in said barn
  • change child’s nappy and then eat sandwiches whilst heavy rain continues, whilst regretting not bringing any sort of waterproof clothing for anyone other than small child – the same small child who, whilst being only 12 weeks old, has already developed the ability to laugh and point at his soaking wet father from within the warmth and dryness of his red waterproof
  • decide that the rain is not going to stop
  • run back through the mud and rain to the car, leaving brother-in-law, wife and child in barn
  • drive back to collect rest of party and then home, to glorious sunshine
  • head to the pub next door for a pint or two
  • return home, eat pie
  • search for hotel for stay in Budapest – realise that no hotel there has been renovated since 1967. Decide to seek advice from the only person I know with much experience of the Hungarian capital.
  • read the best post in ages on Parallax View – end the day contented