Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Home truths

The most sung song in Liverpool is not Eleanor Rigby, it is not even Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls, Enola Gay by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or even Walk On by Gerry and the Pacemakers, although as the anthem of Liverpool Football Club, this one comes a close second. Other, more unlikely contenders might be anything by Echo and the Bunnymen, China Crisis, Rick Astley, The Icicle Works, The Christians, or indeed the song There She Goes written by the cult band The La's but made very famous as it was covered by the dire folk band Sixpence none the Richer and then included in the soundtrack of the kid's film Snow Days, despite being blatantly, (and in the first interviews about the song by clear admittance), about heroin usage - if I may quote:

There she goes
Pulsing through my veins
And I just can't contain, this feeling that remains

And Mr Declan MacManus AKA Elvis Costello, despite being very famous does'nt even get a look in, nor does The Cult's She Sells Sanctuary, The Real Thing's You To Me Are Everything, Lisa Stansfield's All Around the World or Julian Cope's World Shut Your Mouth.

All the above, are either Liverpool linked or originated, and most can be heard with regularity on any FM Radio station in Canada, or similar stations in Leeds today (it is amazing how identikit Radio Stations in the English speaking world are, even down to the play-lists: in short I still get Shania here). All these songs pale into insignificance (in terms of popularity in the city) when compared with song made famous by Sixties folk sensations "The Spinners". The song, perhaps sums up everything you need to know about Liverpool, and Scousers attitude to their city, and is called In My Liverpool Home. The full lyrics can be found here:

It is not just music that Liverpudlians boast about. Plays such as Educating Rita, Boys from the Blackstuff, politicians such as Harold Wilson (Prime Minister of the UK) and the scriptwriter Eddie Braben all came from Liverpool. Liverpool id currently Eurpoean City of Culture, and most Scousers will tell you "About time too! This is the most famous city in the World - Adolf Hitler studied painting here". Overall, Liverpudlians count themselves as great communicators, racontuers and storytellers, something they regard as part of their cultural heritage.

I had left Liverpool for over ten years when I moved to Canada. In Halifax, I settled quickly, and rose meteorically through the ranks of the first company I worked for, becoming Vice President of Operations within weeks. I decided, very quickly, to initiate a weekly briefing of the shop-floor staff. My intentions were to get a real grip on how things were going in production, have any 'issues' raised before they became a problem, make myself available. I spent very long hours before this first Production meeting, planning schedules and allocating work, flagging areas where I wanted to see improvements, refining my agenda for the meeting, checking facts, preparing handouts.

Despite this detailed preparation, I was nervous on the morning of the meeting, but optimistic, imagining all sorts of possible outcomes. Maybe that guy with the moustache - ("I think his name is Tony?" I asked Phil, the President) might have a few suggestions? Maybe the new era of 'parallel management', where office doors really were open, and guys who really knew the work would really buy in to my concepts of ownership and engagement, I thought. Whatever happens, this is a step in the right direction and I had the whole thing planned to a tee.

I entered the workshop at the agreed time, and all the guys(there were no women working there when I first arrived) were sitting down drinking Tim Hortons. They'd also treated themselves to a big tray of donuts, and most of them were smoking. The meeting was scheduled for 10.00am, two hours after start time, but it was obvious from the immaculate condition of the shop that absolutely no work had been done that morning.

I got the guys' attention by handing out my agenda notes, and introducing myself. I'd worked for the company for a short time, in a lesser capacity, but mostly on-site in Halifax, so most of these shop-based guys were new to me, and I to them. I launched into my agenda by saying

"I dont want to keep you all, I'm just going to go over a few things, and if there's any questions, you can let me know at the end. Or just see me in my office later. Allright?"

The meeting went quickly. As I completed each point on my list, there were no questions, not even from Tony, just the the occasional nod, or maybe a quick "Ah-ha" if I happened to catch someone's eye. "They'll take a bit of time to warm-up" I though to myself, so I sped through the list, making it clear as I went that we'd be doing this regularly, and that my office door would be open.

The meeting ended when I'd finished talking, and with still no questions, I returned to my office. It was timesheet day, and I was quickly immersed in accounts. After a while though, there was a knock on the office door, and Tony entered. He took off his baseball cap, sat down in the chair opposite me and scratched the back of his head.

"Hiya! What's up?" I asked.

"Well, Mr Martin, you seem like a nice fella and all, so I do'nt want you to take this wrong or anything, but I spoke to the boys, and they want me to ask you what that little meeting was all about."

Pleased that my meeting had raised the guy's interest, I was however, not entirely clear what Tony meant.

"Well, Tony, - it is Tony isnt it? - I'm just trying to get everyone involved, you know? Let you guys know what contracts we've got coming up, find out what's happening on the floor - keep everyone informed, you know? Was there anything in particular that wasnt clear?"

Tony scratched his head again.

"Now you come to mention it, there was."

"What bit?"

Tony paused slightly.

"All of it, really."

"What? All of it?"

"Well, yeah. Like I say, you're a nice fella and all, and I dont want to hurt your feelings or nothing, but no-one could understand a word you said in that there meeting."

"What? Nothing?"

"No. Nothing. It's ok when we're sitting here talking - I can get maybe 50% of what you say, and the rest I can piece together, but out there in the shop, it just did'nt make any sense. It sounded like French."


"Yeah, French".

Tony left the office. Later in our 'relationship' (which mostly involved me firing him), I learnt that he'd never heard of Liverpool.

The photo album is compiled form recent trips to the city - once before I went to Madrid, and again a trip that Nel and I arranged with Cristiana, a colleague who works in Durham. I should just add that the photos view best without captions.


T minus two and counting

Two more days till a much needed vacation . No. better than a vacation. A road trip. :) We've spent the last year converting the motorcycle as much as possible to a two person touring machine. Wide comfy seat, triple the saddle bag space and passenger floor boards. A small windscreen (not in the pic) was the last addition to combat the extra drag. With the price of gas these days, we figured it was time to test our new beast built for two.
We are off to the South Dakota first, check out the Sturgis bike rally, then see where the road takes us. Pics to follow. :)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


Cool site.
interesting talks from people of all disciplines.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Again with the Circles.....

Those familiar with previous posts,particularly those related to my attempts last year to get some sense out of Jobcentre plus, may by now have an idea how ludicrously complicated English bureaucracy has become since we left. This week, Red Haired Boffin has been trying to get an engineer from the power utility to come and turn off our gas supply so that renovations can proceed safely - especially removal of the old, lethal boiler. All this involves is for an engineer to turn up, check the old supply can be safely turned off (ie there are no leaks inside the house - which these days is done via a 5 minute sweep using an electronic nose, as well as good old eyes, nose and ears), then turn a valve 90 degrees and give me a certificate that new work can now safely proceed.

It has taken the RHB hours on the telephone, and involved one 'missed' appointment (when the engineer turned up uninvited - as we do not live there, and were not expecting him, we were not on-site ), two hours on the phone for me, more phone calls on hold being told how important our call is to npower, and finally an appointment has been arranged. However, you may sympathize, given my previous descriptions of the tangled web weaved by British bureacracy, with the tone of the e-mail I recieved from RHB, notifying me of the appointment she has finally managed to make:

"Gas meter
Man is coming on Wednesday afternoon between 1 and 6pm to register the
meter in our name and take a meter reading. Your name should be on
that account. After that you can phone up and make an appointment to
have the meter changed over to normal. This takes at least 3 weeks.
However, the good news is that you can turn off the gas from the meter
- there is a handle that you turn. Ask the meter reading guy on
Wednesday. Although, Npower recommends a Corgi engineer to remove
Apparently, I cannot make an appointment for an engineer to come round
and change the meter over to normal because we are no longer classed
as newly moved in - because of the missed appointment on July 11.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck pig pig pig. Sorry

The true picture of RHB's experience is much more complicated than the short description above, but I find myself losing the will to live on her behalf when she calls to vent just before lunch. I try to cheer her up by replying with an account of my own experiences of the morning:

Thanks and well done.

I am filling in a driving licences form and I either need :

a. Someone who has known me for the last two years, in Hull, who is not a relative to sign that they have known me (HERE!) for the last two years


b. Take my old driving licence down to the local DVLA office, with a marriage certificate, to get someone who does not know me to sign that the photo I present them is me.

So it seems as if the qualifications for driving are:

a. You must be married


b. Government officials, who've known you for 5 minutes, must verify that you are who you say you are. They do this by looking at you."

For me, there is two days, which will probably transmute into a week, of bureaucracy ahead. I already know that the local Governement office that processes applications for student finance has lost my on-line forms - an achievement that we thought impossible, and I have not even started applying for my UK passport yet. It is going to be a long week, but I do realize that yesterday's post, a post which noted optimistically that I have nothing to complain about, is now redundant. Down the road lies dealing with the same company to get electricity and gas reconnected (apparently we cannot transfer accounts from this company - npower - until we get them to reconnect the supplies, as they own the meters), dealing with the local Planning and Building Regulations Office, and finally doing my tax forms for the last year. My tax forms are a source of anticipated dread already - in one tax year I have been 'uncategorisable', 'non-existent', 'unemployed(but not eligible)', workless', ' self employed', 'employed', 'semi-retired' and will shortly be a 'full time student'.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The Lifeways of the Semi-Retired

'A New World'. No, a 'Brave New World'. No. That's not it either. How about 'New Beginnings', 'A Fresh Start'? 'A New Order' suggests itself, but I'm sure it has been used before. Maybe, 'A Veritable Paroxysm of Newness'. No, too pretentious, besides being stolen from Dr Donald Fagan, only he was describing the change from a semi-agrarian existence to one of Urban slavery. After many permutations, I finally hit on the right phrase. A writer, I have been told, has to undergo much turpitude, mental anguish and sit facing the blank page, sometimes literally for minutes before they find the exact phrase. In my case, a quick trip to the liquor store, and the problem is solved, as the exact literary phrase to sum up my current condition presents itself. So, as a subtitle to this entry, 'Pig in Shit' it is.

What I had been struggling for is a way to describe the change in lifestyle, and outlook from the days of my daily commute to Leeds, to my current patterns. Going to bed at night is now easy - there is none of the dread that accompanies not knowing how long it is going to take to get to work, or how unhygenic the coffee shop at the local station is going to be this morning. I rise, not with the lark, as in my Leeds existence, but with the sloths, slowly unravelling, grazing gently on prepared breakfast materials, or not, as I feel like, instead of handing the best part of five dollars over to the putty-faced miserables of Pumpkin for a sandwich (that better be genetically modified), and coffee as bad as only English train stations can make it. There's no unceasing fight for space on the delayed 7.33, no Jean from Accounts Recievables tutting loudly, and no blast of Halitosis from uncleaned teeth when I finally arrive at work. Overtime, of which there has been plenty already in our house renovations, is completely unplanned, unpaid, yet totally welcome.

It is not just absences though which are keenly felt. The longer (in time) and deeper(in digging out the foundations of this house) that I've gone, the better life seems. Each morning, after falling over what seems like thousands of cats, I bid Nel fond adieu(if I can find her under the mountains of aforementioned moggies that we seem to now be responsible for), and saunter up Salisbury Avenue for 5o yards, exchange pleasantries with the local newsagent, updating him on the renovations (he's very excited by solar), take a sharp right down Ella Street and arrive at my new work site within seven minutes. A quick reassuring pat of the Crosstowner's saddle lets the trusty steed know he's not been retired, and I get the kettle on.

Full thinking mode usually kicks in around 10am, and from then on in, the day is over too soon, including evenings which are still full of calculations, budgets, plans and design. The evening has, over the last week, concluded with a few failed attempts to write a blog entry, but they have been abortive, so far, for two reasons. The first reason is that the new patterns are exactly that, new, and a good 'slot' for writing has not yet made itself obvious. The second reason is despicably Disney, in that I am as happy as the Pig referred to earlier. and therefore am deprived of this writer's most fertile vein of subject matter. In other words, I have nothing to complain about.


Friday, 25 July 2008

He aint hairy, he's my brother.....

The attached link is to news concerning my 'little' brother.

As you probably do'nt know, little bro is big in traffic. So big, in fact that he made the newspapers last year as a result of his decision to post roadsigns in Polish, as well as English, at a roundabout in Cheshire. Richard took this action in response to the immediate and severe hike in fatalities at the roundabout which occurred when a Polish road haulage company set up their UK training headquarters in the locality. Major Generals (or is it Majors General?) from Surrey immediately wrote to their newspapers to complain about "pandering to the Poles" and demanding that the raving commie who thought up the signs be decapitated and sent back to the lesbian leaning, probably Scandanavian, non-British country they came from - or words to that effect. Most of these people wrote to the Daily Mail, a Right (ie slightly to the Right of Gengis Khan) leaning daily tabloid rag, to be added to the list of newspapers never to be purchased or read in any Nickson household.

The result was that because the road signs now made clear(in the only language they could understand) to the newbie Polish drivers that roundabouts were not racetracks, fatalities at the roundabout returned to 'normal' (which in itself is a remarkable sentence, triggering in my mind all sorts of comments about the madness of road transport generally and how we accept warfare-compatible casualty statistics just to buy our groceries). In the meantime, Majors Generals from Slough were advised to vent their ire at the European Union whose rules allow the transport company to establish business in such ludicrous circumstances.

Returning to little brother, the department that he runs has now won two national awards for their work, and are rapidly becoming , dare I say it, the Manchester United of Traffic Departments nationwide. I am needless to say, disproportionately proud of little brother, and very satisfied with my role in his upbringing. The examples I set for him as a role model, the choices I have made, the lifestyle I have had : he's ignored all these completely and is consequently very successful.

Richard was telling me about his job once - being a Road Safety Engineer is not, we would all agree, one of the most glamourous professions, indeed it is almost the type of job that is parodied at times as being the epitome of dull civil servantness. The fact is though, that given our collective dependance on the motor vehicle, and the annual UK fatality and casualty figures (annual figures which exceed the death and casualty figures of the Second World War), the job is, I would argue, an essential and valuable one. Furthermore, Richard's day-to-day is not unexciting - in the last few weeks he's been involved in an on-line forum with MP's from the Houses Of Parliament, he talks regularly with colleagues across Europe, and he gets to talk to policemen as fellow professionals. Of all of these activities, talking to policemen must be the most exciting. The only time I have ever spoken to policemen, I have always felt either so guilty that I want to confess to shoplifting gobstoppers as a child(Canadians will have to ask me what these are), or, when I need their services (the recent spate of thefts at Large Villas for example) I become massively respectful and overuse the word 'Officer', such as :

"Oh! Hello Officer, thanks for coming Officer, sorry to be a nuisance - I mean I know you've got millions of criminal masterminds to catch and four cans of beer seems so trivial, Officer, I dont want to waste your officerly time, Officer, but theft is theft. Do you want a cup of tea, Officer?"

I envy Richard. He gets to call coppers 'John'.

phone call afternoon

I've spent the afternoon calling the following companies:

Scottish Power
British Gas
Yorkshire Water

Total time spent on phone: 1 hour 23 minutes
Total time spent talking to an actual human: 7 minutes 14 seconds.

Musical pieces listened to:
Handel#s Water Music
Just like a Woman by Shania Twain
Beethoven's 9th
The Complete Ring Cycle by Wagner


In the final phone call I actually forgot what I was calling about and arranged for an electrician to come to the new house and change the meter. As Nel has already done this, I'll have to re-arrange the visit, but right now, I have'nt got the energy. I should sign off as the latest piece of music is coming to an end, I should be ready to talk.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Dazed and Confused

Our heads are a mess: I'm still meeting tradespeople at the rate of about three a day, working onsite and coming home then continuing our planning. Moreover, the tradespeople are, unfortunately, acting exactly as we predicted. If during a conversation with a carpenter/electrician/plumber the fact that my partner is in fact a Red Haired Boffin (ie a Professor), and a Canadian, is introduced into the conversation, the price one recieves for a certain job is massively inflated compared with prices for the same job if neither of these factors are admitted. Today, I tested the theory, mentioning Nel's profession and citizenship to a builder. The same builder called me later with a ball park price.

"Hi Martin, it's about £24,000, or thereabouts" he said.

I should mention that this builder has a very bad stutter, and up to this point I was keen on using him, partly because I think that overcoming a disability (of any type) is admirable and my natural bias towards positive discrimination means that among the swathe of burly white men visiting our project, Gary (for that is his name) would only be usurped by a gay female foreign national at present.

I ask Gary to repeat the figure he has just uttered, and he does, patiently. I repeat the figure back to him.

"Sorry, Gary, but £24,000 for a single storey, kitchen extension 15 ft by 9ft? Are you sure you understood what I want? I thought we'd discussed that I was building the kitchen units, drywalling, flooring and painting the room and that someone else was doing the plumbing. Your price is about (I perform a swift mental arithmetic) £800 for each lineal foot of wall you build. It's only about two week's work for a good team of brickies. I really don't know what to say."

Gary hesitates a bit then starts with the excuses - he did'nt understand, there's a lot of work to do, it's bad access, but ultimately he knows he's blown it.

I tell another builder nothing about Nel's job, and the estimate is 50% lower.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Large Villas:

I receive an estimate from Build First for our Loft Conversion, and am beginning to realize two things:

1. My communication skills are about on a par with Icksy's

2. This project will be a severe test of my Project Management skills - there's no hiding behind critical analysis of how crap other people are at running projects.

Actually, there is also a third thing I realize, namely that the Red Haired Boffin and I are genetically, culturally and emotionally incapable of doing anything normal. Fortunately, BBC Radio 4, my daytime companion, informs me that new experiences, or 'novelism' as the interviewee on their otherwise excellent 'All in the Mind' (a programme about psychology and other brain matters), decides to label the phenomena, are, on the whole, a good thing. Apparently, living life by rote makes the apparent unfurling of your life seem a faster process, whereas doing things differently, and having new experiences extends your percieved lifespan. I can relate to this because it seems like a hundred years ago that we decided to buy this house, and do non-conventional things with it.

Build First is a revolutionary new system whereby I supply my plans online to a website, recieve a courtesy phone call to clarify a few details, and am then supplied with a quote that the company are guaranteed to honour. This sounds ideal to me.

Currently, I am devoting about an hour per day to meeting various tradespeople to discuss the work I require doing, and am finding the process a complete waste of my time. The reason I am finding the process a complete waste of time has, as it's roots, the pointless move to Urbanization five thousand years ago in ancient Uruk, one of the first cities. As an example, a brief synopsis of my conversation today with Gary, from Build-It-Now, a local company will suffice.

I meet Gary on-site, two days after he agreed to originally meet me, and I show him the plans for our proposed extension. We discuss details, clarifying a few points, and Gary asks me if Planning Permission has yet been granted. I tell him "No", and he is surprised.

"Did'nt your architect get the Planning Permission for you while he was drawing up the plans?" he asks.

"No," I tell him, "We did'nt use an architect. We did these plans ourselves."

Gary changes tack " I can't give you a quote based on these plans", he tells me.

"Why not?"

"They have to be drawn up by architects" he says, continuing " I have the number of the guy we usually use. He could probably do these for about grand." [Note: ' a grand' = a thousand pounds].

I'm puzzled, so I ask, "What is there about my plans that's different form an architect's?"

"Well, nothing really" Gary tells me, " It's just that we work from architect's drawing's. The scale is different. And he uses little dots to represent the bricks. You've used little squares."

I agree to go home and change the little squares on my plans to little dots. After two weeks looking for a builder, it seems that every builder we've met knows a really good architect, one who will use dots not squares, and if we decide not to use these architects, the project becomes very difficult. I call a few architects to clarify the situation, and e-mail one my plans.

"The drawings are good" he tells me, "But we use little dots to represent the bricks, not little squares."

I decide to ask what I'd get for my money if I hired an architect, and the answer is that I'd get drawings, a few recommendations as to what builders to use and a few materials resources suggestions.

"And the structural calculations" I add to his description, "You know, design and specification of structural beams, specifications for the heating system that sort of thing...?"

"Well, no", he tells me "You'd have to get other people to do all that. Then you'd have to tell us what they specified, and we'd include it in the drawings."

"What, you mean exactly as I have already done?"

"Yes", says a member of the most highly overpaid professions on Earth (apart from pilots), "But the drawings we supply would be architectural".

I pass on his offer to do exactly what I have done at a cost of £1000 pounds. The reason this is the fault of the inhabitants of Uruk, is that it was there that the division of labour was invented. While I am all in favour of full qualifications and training to do a professional job, I do'nt like cartels.

I'm reviewing the quote for our loft conversion. It's originator is Build First, the fool-proof web based solution. I'm hoping they can take me out of the Hull cartel. I call them and point out their error in supplying me with a quote for a loft conversion, instead of an extension. They are apologetic and offer an immediate solution:

" We have contacts with some really good local architects who can draw the plans up for you".

Sunday, 20 July 2008

A million people

We just got back from Liverpool after a weekend wherein was conclusively proved that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Our plan for this weekend was to show Cristiana (Nel's old pal from UWO) Liverpool in all it's pomp as current European CITY OF CULTURE, an official title bestowed every year by the European Union on selected cities, cities notable for their culture.

Unfortunately all that was evident this weekend was crowds and crowds of people, as we chose a weekend during which the Tall SHips made their return to the city, a major international golf championship was being held, and the peak of cultural activities were in full cultural flow. Result is an estimated million extra people to the city over this weekend.

THe evidence is below:The view ahead( above). Below is the view to the right from the same position. If you open the photo fully (by clicking on it) you will see a snake of people below a big tower. That , up to this point had been our intended destination - The Tate Modern, an art gallery. The view behind us is the third picture and the one above is the view, more or less, to our left. It was not pleasant, so we abandoned our mission and retreated to the sanctuary of a nearby inn. The inn held the rest of the million people who are not represented on the photos, so we went home.

Despite this, we had a good weekend.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

U-values, plans and spreadsheets

Posting on this blog, while not temporarily suspended, per se, is taking longer than normal. This is entirely the fault of the house which we've recently purchased. I'm longing to provide details of the Burgeoning Gatorade Trailer Disaster at Work, as well as inside information into corporate law and the results of our successful lawsuit, as well as tale of very flat hiking in the north of England, but for the next week our output will be limited.

The reason for this is that , until I actually achieve, once again, a state of worklessness, a state which is imminent (Thursday 17th July), I go to work, come home and work on the house - even if not physically we calculating U-values like crazy, researching environmentally friendly products, discussing design details or walking the cats. Tonight for example, after a ten hour shift tearing down walls and filling plaster, the Red Haired Boffin is in one room drafting amended plans for our Planning Application, while I'm researching the price of materials for our kitchen extension so we have a baseline materials cost which we can use to assess the quotes we are obtaining from builders.

Most of this renovation is by us, and our plans are the most ambitious we've ever attempted. We are only going to get builders to do a very small proportion of the work we've planned, and the actually task before us is massive. It includes:

Designing the extension to the house (including structural designs)
Designing a new heating system which incorporates solar, gas, underfloor heating and baseboard radiators.
Designing a new type of lighting system based entirely on LED lighting
Designing an insulation system that improves current English Building r3egulations standards by a massive 1000%

Then designing and making a kitchen, two bathroom suites, three window skylights and installing a bamboo floor.

At the moment we are busy tearing out all the ceilings and exterior wall finishes, right back to bare brick (in the UK, walls are usually brick smothered in at least an inch of rock hard plaster). We're also ripping out the whole ground floor subfloor, insulating beneath the floor to about 150mm of high density insulation, laying an underfloor heating system, re-laying a new subfloor, then laying a bamboo floor on top.

All of this means we're right into the math. We have to work out the final heat efficiency of out house after we've insulated (this is called the u-value, and is based on the heat transmissions of the walls, ceiling and floor), then work out how much radiant heat we need to heat a cubic volume displaying this level of thermal efficiency, then convert that figure into an equivalent output figure(given an anticipated output of the underfloor heating, radiators), work out how many radiators we need, convert that figure into another related figure which is called BTU (British THermal Units), a figure that describes the power output of our planned solar panels and back up gas heater, then search the market for products that fulfil our criteria.

Last night I did all of these calculations then found that I could not find a gas boiler which was weak enough for our needs, because if we insulate as planned, the thermal efficiency of the house would mean that in winter we would be returning hot water to the boiler(gas powered water heater), which is very bad for the boiler. The dilemma was therefore to reduce our insulation ie make the house less thermally efficient, or to increase the number of radiators. An increase in the number of radiaters, while cat friendly is very disadvantageous in terms of our budget - it means more materials, more plumbing, more thermostats. So today is back to the drawing board.

Maths becomes complicated when one starts discussing cubic flow rates per minute - the number of variables are truly astonishing. But the trip is worth it. I have found a few other hardy souls who have attempted to do what we are attempting, namely an inner city off the grid eco-house- but in truth, most of our contemporaries are people we would probably avoid socially - mid thirties hippies, with not an eye for asthetics, strong body odours and straggly pony tails. We, I've concluded are eco-chic. It's environmentalism with high heels. But like the eye-brow plucker, beauty - especially self-build post hippy enviro-realism (as I do'nt, but would, call it if I was in marketing) - comes at a price. You've got to work at it baby.

Therefore tales of our other lives will have to wait a week or so. IN the meantime, our planning spreadsheet is at the top of the page. It is colour coded. Red meads something needs doing. Green means it has been done. Yellow is an information box. Please feel free to dip in. Regular progress reports will follow, but not at the expense of commenting on our other lives. Just as soon as I've worked out these flow through figures for 25mm copper pipe.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Bringing the House down

We are in full-on renovation mode at weekends right now, and during the week we also have a huge number of tasks related to our renovation in the race to 29 September. 29 September is important because my college starts on that date. We now recognize that given the scale of the task at hand, we will not be moved into the pile by then, but we need to be substantially along the road, because from 29 September, I will be competing in the first year of my degree course.

The scale of the task is enormous. Take the exterior walls for example. British house have mainly had their interior walls finished with plaster for a couple of hundred years. Unfortunately, insulation is absent entirely from a lot of these walls. This problem has been corrected in many British houses by inserting insulation between the cavity that exists between the two layers of brick that make up the outer skin of the house (called an inner and outer leaf). In the case of Large Villas, the house was built before bricklayers started building cavity walls, so all that exists between inside and outside is two layers of brick, cheek by jowl - effectively a double layer of brick making one solid wall. Structurally, this is very sound construction. Insulationarily, this is terrible.

We bought this house deciding to fix this problem, and already knew the solution before we decided to purchase. There is though, as Yoda might intone, a vast gulf between saying and doing. For example, it only takes minute to say "We're going to tear all the plaster off the exterior walls, take all the ceilings down, apply a laminated drywall to the exposed brick, and Hey Presto, insulated walls at a higher than specified R-value!" but the doing is different.

This is the upper most front bedroom floor after Nickson has brought down the plaster on the walls and ceiling. And most of the soot from a hundred years of burning coal:
And this is the exterior wall of the front bedroom on the second floor after the plaster has been all torn off:And this is yours truly, yesterday after completing the task:

On completion of this task after lugging all 35 bags of soot, plaster, lathes and general dirt down the stairs to the garden, (where as far as I'm concerned they can stay) I pondered, and it probably will not be the first time during this project, on why we decided to buy a house with three floors, and not a bungalow. Then I remembered that we decided that having three flights of stairs to negotiate would give the cats lots of exercise.

NOTA BENE: There are four bones on the above photograph that have been previously broken. A small prize, consisting of one, miniscule calico cat, will be awarded to the first person who identifies which bones these might be. Answers do not necessarily have to be correct to be awarded the 'prize', in fact anyone who inadvertently types wiity comment and then deletes it can expect the moggie via post. Prizes cannot be refunded.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

A quick aside ..................

I received today, in reply to a standard polite inquiry about the whereabouts of my funds due in relation to settlement of my lawsuit in Canada, the following e-mail:

Thank you for your correspondence.

Please be advised that as of June 25, 2008 I will be ceasing to practice law.

I will endeavour to respond to your correspondence prior to that date; however, if your matter is of an urgent nature, please contact my assistant, Theresa Arthur, at (xxx) 672-xxxx ext. 343.

After June 25, 2008, please contact Theresa Arthur for further information on your matter.

Yours truly,

All I will add at this stage is that I was not really surprised. We have written little on this issue over past months, but that was mainly because so much was riding on the settlement of this case financially that I did not want to write anything about the unprofessionalism and inefficiency of my former lawyer until the filthy lucre was safely in my hands, for fear of a random occurance whereby an excoriating blog entry was made public by some wild chance and screwed up any chance of ever getting paid.

Fortunately, after some days panic, I received news that the funds are safely in escrow (wherever or whatever that is) with a new lawyer, and payment is imminent. Once again though, I reserve my final entry, and the end to the tale (and it has been quite a ride) until the dosh is served up.