fountain by William Pye at Clinton lodge

We visited a couple of gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme today. I’d thoroughly recommend it – a chance to wander around gardens that are normally not open to the public and to give a few pounds to thoroughly good causes in the process. And to drink tea and eat fine cake.

This is the fountain at Clinton Lodge, designed by William Pye. We now have serious fountain envy.

Chain saw spares update

From last week.

Inevitably, they have sent me the wrong component. Well, kinda. They have sent me the component that corresponds with the part number that I used when ordering. However, the part number on the key to the exploded parts diagram is incorrect. I have emailed them and said that I consider them to be at fault and have requested that they send the correct item FOC. We’ll see what happens.

(Aside: I’ve always loved the notion of exploded diagrams. KABLOOIEEE!)

The Disaster Zone

The title of this post reflects the name that my uncle has for our household. Thanks Ted.

So far this year:

  • conservatory woe, involving new conservatory purchased to replace old leaking one, but not being manufactured to the right size, resulting in a large “air gap” that it took the suppliers three weeks to resolve (sorry Dave, should have come to you)
  • heavy cold woe
  • financial woe, now resolved
  • more family health woe
  • falling down stone steps woe
  • chickenpox woe
  • and now, leaking waste water pipe under the sink in the bathroom woe.

For goodness sake, can we just have a simple life where everything bloody well works?

Time flying

It only took until around 7.15pm today, 2nd January, for me to say to Hels: "bloody hell, the year is flying past already!"

2009 is certainly going to be interesting, potentially dramatic and quite possibly bloody terrifying. As Gordon put it, we will all get there by the end of 2009, but it might be useful to know where "there" is.

Meanwhile, we have "reduced lighting" in our conservatory as the electricians have been (i.e. my father and brother) in preparation for the replacement of our conservatory this week. You’d think that replacing a conservatory would not be something to tackle in times of financial uncertainty, but this qualifies as a distress purchase due to the fact that water has been pouring in and it is about to collapse. It’s only costing us <cough> thousand pounds, but it does mean that we are the conservatory company’s new best friends. It will, at least, let in more light and reduce drafts – so we should be more energy efficient, at least by a small bit.


Other thrift measures in place include:

  • taking a permit to saw down trees in a well-known National Forest and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to get cheap fuel for our home (and to wind up passing dog-walkers/conservationists);
  • thinking about laying more insulation in the loft;
  • starting work on the allotment – potatoes are currently chitting on my office floor and a big box of seeds lies ready. But we need to do more digging yet and also source some poo;
  • encouraging Tom to use the loo instead of nappies – he is late at making this transition, but shows no enthusiasm for it;
  • installing a new, energy-efficient washing machine (another distress purchase – water flooded across the floor and the engineer scratched his chin and sucked on his teeth, just as the warranty had expired);
  • enjoying days out that consist of walking with occasional added pint/coffee, or heavy use of the National Trust card;
  • DartTag – £1 instead of £1.50. It’s the way ahead, and it makes a groovy BEEEEEP noise and makes the barrier go up all by itself.

Are you saving cash?

Waaay behind

I’m waaay behind. Way behind with work. Way behind with stuff that needs doing around the house. Way behind in keeping in contact with people (sorry). Way behind in sleep. Way behind in blogging.

Part of the reason is that this weekend sees the 14th Garden Event at West Dean. Last year we were royally rained upon – 32mm in the first few hours. I’ve confidently been telling people that we couldn’t possibly have two years in a row like that, but the forecast suggests that I might be wrong. Oh well, at least Sunday looks a bit better, and West Dean is on a shallow soil over gravel, so drains remarkbly quickly.

Anyway, do come along. It will be good – plants, tools, equipment – in fact, pretty much everything garden related, plus a good selection of food and drink. Bring an umbrella to keep you dry and some cash to spend. And your mere presence will cheer me up.

UPDATE: the forecast now says that we should miss the worst of the rain tomorrow during the day (it will be damp, rather than wet, when we are setting-up in the morning). The heaviest rain will pass through overnight tomorrow, so I’m hoping we might just get away with it.

Wishing we had a huge loft

It would seem that it is Scalectrix Day for our local FreeCycle group – about five miles of the stuff seems to be on offer. If only we had a huge loft…

It’s interesting to try and suss out the type of people using FreeCycle. They seem to range widely in age from the really-quite-young (WANTED: parts that mite[sic] be used to make go cart) to the were-young-quite-some-time-ago (OFFERED: silk parachute – been in loft for years). There are clearly some computer enthusiasts (OFFERED: v92 modem), small business people (OFFERED: HP LaserJet 2200 in working order) and hoarders of stuff (OFFERED: large sack full of matchboxes from around the world). Some people have a curious notion of what others might want (OFFERED: bin bag full of plastic end pieces from cardboard tubes used for mailing posters, etc) whilst others are hopelessly optimistic in their desires (WANTED: small car, must be in good order). A few are clearly genuinely needy and will make good use of what they get (WANTED: any baby clothes – number four on his/her way! and WANTED: camping kit – will be the only sort of holiday we can afford this year) whilst others are using FreeCycle to help with their own small business (WANTED: any old bicycles for refurbishment) – an issue which has vexed some users of our group. Some items are snapped up quickly (monitors, TVs, hi-fis) whilst others languish unloved (endless sacks of children’s clothes, used interior doors).

Does it work? Undoubtedly. But I am sure that there are people who have collected all sorts of unwanted junk via FreeCycle to add to their existing junk. It seems that there is a core group of people who repeatedly offer new things and you wonder if they have enormous lofts or garages full of stuff, or if they get things from other FreeCyclers and realise a week later that they don’t really need it. And if it gives unwanted things a final chance at a new life before they get scrapped/recycled/thrown into landfill, then it must be a good thing.

Hold onto your hats, it’s the End Of The Year Post

Yes, once again we come around to the annual grayblog end-of-the-year introspection. I know you’ve been looking forward to this for at least, oooo, twelve months?

Firstly, let’s look back and get the resolutions thing out of the way. At the end of 2006 (the archives are over there, on the right), I said I’d carry on improving the things that I had starting improving in 2006. But who has time for that? The garden isn’t finished, I haven’t done enough exercise and the writings here have become ever more sparse as the year has gone on.

So, do resolutions have any value if they are so easily broken/ignored? Comments welcome on that subject. And, given my obvious feelings on the value of resolutions, you can set as much store as you feel is appropriate in the following:

  • to write here more frequently (not too hard)
  • to take more exercise (we now have bikes which spend far too much time locked away)
  • to keep my office in a more tidy condition (also not hard)

What else can be said about 2007? Well, at a professional level, things have generally improved through the year. I don’t think it’s a huge secret that I wasn’t terribly optimistic about the prospects for my business late in 2006 and was feeling pretty demoralized. Things have improved markedly since then and whilst it is still tough going, the light is clearly visible at the end of the tunnel and, if all goes to plan in 2008, I might be able to talk about my business and the “P-word”* in the same sentence without laughter. To a large degree, I’ve been carried along by the faith shown in me and my business by others around me – my backers and my clients. Even my bank has been supportive (although I’ve yet to ask them to dip their corporate hand into their corporate pockets for me, and hopefully won’t need to). The one person who keeps me from believing too much of what they say has been Hels, who frequently questions me and challenges me to test what I’m doing and show that things truly are going the right way. That is a good thing and has encouraged me to look hard at the business and the direction that it is going in. And I’m happy with it right now.

2007 has also seen us seriously (VERY seriously) looking at emigration to the Netherlands (or possibly just inside the Belgian border). Ultimately this plan has been shelved – we have decided to stay close to friends and family. We also can’t really afford it at this stage – if my business was making more money and we hadn’t been so crippled by not selling Hels’s flat for so long, then maybe it would have been different. Note that I say that the plan is shelved, not abandoned. It’s something that we will keep at the back of our minds and may return to in the future. And our love for Maastricht is undimmed, as you might have guessed from the number of Dutch-related links that I post.

The year has seen its usual bunch of travelling, this time including trips to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Poland. I didn’t get to a few destinations that I had in mind for lack of time and resources, but the opportunity is not lost, merely deferred. I do promise to stick some photos on here somewhen of some of the places that I/we have been to this year – feel free to nag me to keep to that promise. Highlights of this year’s travel for me included:

  • San Pellegrino in Alpe, Italy – breath-takingly beautiful and wonderfully peaceful (although I suspect it might be busier in high season)
  • Hamburg, Germany – drinking cocktails whilst standing in the rain on the morning of my birthday
  • Warnemünde, Germany – bobbing about in a launch on the Warnow river with Hels and Tom
  • Kanne, Belgium – getting the “I could live here – this just might work” feeling
  • A12, Netherlands – driving from Gouda towards Zoetermeer and marvelling at the sodium-lamp orange mist with enormous wind turbines looming darkly out of the gloaming and wishing my camera was handy
  • Tiercé, France – having possibly the best cheese board I’ve ever had or am ever likely to have in “Sarkozy’s restaurant”
  • Przydworzyce, Poland – driving through the woods and seeing locals who had gathered mushrooms offering them for sale at the roadside, often only a single punnet-full

Travel plans for 2008 are subject to change, but look likely to include Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands (no surprise there), Switzerland (2008’s first for me – 2007’s was Poland) and Italy. Maybe Spain. And maybe Ireland and Poland. Too many places to go to, for both business and pleasure, and too little time and money to do them all.

Of course, the true highlight of 2007 has been watching Tom growing up. He is fantastic, a life-changing element of existence. He continually amazes and surprises us. It’s impossible to feel down when he’s around. I’m looking forward to more in 2008. And more of married life with Hels, but I’m going to stop on the emotional family gushing now before your keyboard gets covered in vomit.

What do I think 2008 will bring? Goodness knows. If there is one thing that I’ve learnt, it is that you can never tell what the future will bring. I think politics and the economy will both be fascinating in 2008 (and might finally push crappy nonsense “entertainment” out of the headlines a little) although the ride might be a bit bumpy. My business will increase in strength and stature. Family life should continue to be splendid, particularly as we have settled on our home here for the time-being and should have fewer disturbances to routine (famous last words). And I might knock-up a decent duck à l’orange or two.

Thanks to the regular readers who keep coming back here – I know there must be at least half a dozen of you still braving the digital elements to come here. Happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all.

* profit hahahaha!!

Me and my meme

I’ve been asked to meme. I think this breaks a rule somewhere, but the flesh is weak. I hope it is painless.

1. There are some sweet pea seeds on my table – they are a heritage variety that I grow and propagate every year from self-sown plants. They should be in a paper bag, but where do you get paper bags these days? Shops are hopeless in this regard, addicted as they are to plastic. I think I may have to use an envelope.

2. I’m currently drinking a cup of black Earl Grey tea. I only have milk in my tea when someone else makes it and doesn’t ask if I take milk before liberally applying the bovine lactations. And I only have tea other than Earl Grey when there is no Earl Grey available unless, of course, I’m having a mad day and treating myself to some Darjeeling or lapsang souchong.

3. I have discovered that there is more to vodka than meets the eye. Of course, it probably isn’t sensible to put vodka in your eye, although a quick search of Google reveals umpteen people who are prepared to try it.

4. The above thought reminded me of a link I saw Darren post today which provides top tips for new bloggers. Amongst the tips is this: “If you spend a little time searching before you post, you can probably find your idea well articulated elsewhere already.” Which has probably sent my already weak blogging mojo into hiding completely.

5. I am thinking of getting a new phone as my old phone has a nasty habit of switching itself off at random. But I’m concerned that all the latest models of the candy-bar variety (my preferred phone format) are perfectly rectangular and therefore very difficult to grip. Have these people never heard of ergonomics? I’m quite tempted by the Nokia E51 though.

6. I have never been a Venture Scout. I was in the Cubs though. Dib dib, dob dob.

7. Are we there yet? I’m not a fan of memes and have generally avoided them. However, I’m sure I’ve done more than a couple in the seven years (seven? really?) that this blog has been going. So I will not damn them entirely as somebody would end up searching the archives and I’d end up being hoisted by my own underpants.

8. Right, I’m off now to light the fire.


Now here are the rules:  

Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules. At the end of your blog, Chose people to get tagged and list their names. Or don’t. Who’s going to check?

I’m tempted to go for a few high profile bloggers like Samuel Pepys or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the first one is dead and the second is unlikely to join in a meme. So, if you are reading this and you have not already done this meme, then consider yourself tagged.

From the ****ing Hell department

I drive a car that is six years old. It has an about-average mileage on the clock. We bought it eleven months ago and, since then, it has done 19,000 miles. Two weeks ago, an emissions warning light began to glow on the dashboard. A quick flick through the handbook indicated that this was an item that needed referring to a garage – a quick couple of calls to local garages (not Renault dealers) indicated that this was a problem for a Renault dealer as they have the diagnostic kit needed.

A general prod around the car also showed that a drive shaft boot needed to be replaced. So, this morning, I dropped the car at our nearest Renault dealer and asked them to service the car and give a quote for the work needed to remedy these faults.

They called me back a little while ago. They’ve identified the emissions fault (oxygen sensor) and also found two problems with the power-assisted steering (leaking pump and switch). The total bill for this work is a substantial four-figure sum and equates to 50% of the price that we paid for the car. After I’d fallen off my chair, I said I’d call them back. As you can imagine, Hels wasn’t too impressed either.

My brother is a bit of a dab-hand with cars. I asked his opinion. Apparently, the entire drive shaft shouldn’t be more than about £80 to £100. The sensor should be about the same and take only 20 minutes to fit. All-in-all, he reckons that the Renault bods think they are on to a good thing and his advice was “get it out of there and take it somewhere else”.

I’ve got to pay for the service and the work done, but otherwise I’m going to take it to the garage that my father normally uses, a garage that comes recommended with the phrase “he won’t rip you off – he tells it like it is, but he won’t rip you off”. I don’t think the same can be said of the Renault dealer.

UPDATE: I’ve just done some research. I can find a drive shaft for £105 (quoted price: £494); the oxygen sensor goes for around £50 (quoted price: £241). I haven’t found prices for the power-assisted steering components, but on this form I would expect them to be closer to £125 than the quoted price of £513. If I can’t get this work done considerably cheaper elsewhere, I’ll eat the car.