Monthly Archives: January 2011

Vote with your feet

Oh no you didn’t!
The BIG PARCEL that was supposed to be delivered before Christmas never came. John Lewis chased it but they couldn’t get anywhere either so they gave a full refund. So, no marks for UPS.

No marks for BP Gas either, despite me having lodged two complaints about non-delivery. The needle on my tank is now so far into the red I can no longer read it. Will they come before I run out? Will I soon have no central heating and no gas to cook with? Watch this space. To be fair to them it’s only THIRTY-ONE days since I asked for a top-up.

How do firms like these manage to survive?

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Out of the mouths of babes (3*)

The FYO, yesterday:
‘Papa, your car really is full of junk…

*(1) and (2) are here and here.

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Small Beer

I have a reconditioned beer cooler in my garage. No beer, just a cooler. It’s about the size of a microwave and I bought it on eBay after seeing one on Beechgrove Garden (BBC Scotland). They had it connected up as a heat pump to help prevent freezing in one of their greenhouses – the facts sheet is here. The principle is that you bury pipes in the garden and extract heat from the ground (I haven’t got round to that bit yet). The heat you get from a small unit like that is no big deal, but it should use less energy to run than the energy I would use heating the greenhouse to the same temperature… if you see what I mean. Just a couple of degrees would help, as we get frosts in early June and they can flatten seedlings.

Whitmuir Organics has a REAL ground source heatpump. The pipes are buried deep beneath large earth embankments, and from them they heat most of their new building. I can only bury my pipes a maximum of 18″ (45cm) beneath the surface because at that depth I reach solid rock – and I’m not sure I would be popular if I started blasting it out.

In the 1980s I was on the UK Department of Energy’s Geothermal Energy Steering Committee, and in those days heat pumps were hardly worth considering (not that ground source heat pumps use geothermal energy – they use heat from the sun that has warmed the Earth, not heat generated deep down, that’s quite different).

Things have changed a lot since the 1980s. The cost of fossil fuel has rocketed and heat pump technology has improved. I have yet to see if my little experiment will work. Trouble is, a lot of digging is involved. At present the ground is rock hard and covered by an ice sheet, like Greenland.

[Many false claims are made about heat pumps. If you are seriously thinking about installing one (not a toytown one like mine) then download the Energy Saving Trust’s .pdf file from here]

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EON

You might think that the Red Cross panto fiasco is enough corporate stupidity for one week. Not so. There is another. Have you heard about the ice-cream lady in Blackburn? It is here. To summarise, an electricity company installs the wrong meter. Ten years later it discovers its mistake and bills the user for £60,000. Yes, really! The company, E.ON (whatever that means – could it be Electricity Overcharging Numpties?) has agreed to reduce the charge to £30,000. Now why would they do that, unless they accepted that it was all their fault?

The company says it is ‘aiming to transform every aspect of energy’. Right. We get the message, guys. You make mistakes and we pay.

I’m about to start bulk-buying ice cream (chocolate) in case other energy suppliers become infected with E.ON’s money-making ideas.

Footnote: I’m not sure how a small ice cream company can use £60,000 worth of electricity in ten years. Are they sure they haven’t got Blackburn’s street lights connected to their meter?

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New Ski Slope?


This is Edinburgh’s new ski slope, a couple of miles away from the old one at Hillend.

It’s a shame the lorry is in the way because otherwise it would have looked more believable – though it looks more like a Himalayan peak than one of our rolling Pentland Hills. It is at Pentland Plants, built from the snow they shifted to clear their car park yesterday.

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Red Cross Code

I see that a Christmas panto in Glasgow has violated the Geneva Convention by using a red cross on a nurse’s costume. I put a red cross on my household first aid box (red, because at the time I didn’t have any green tape – and anyway, red was okay for first aid box crosses when I was a boy so when did the world change, and why?). Does this mean I’m about to have a visit from the colour-of-cross police?

Lichfield Heritage Centre had better watch out, because if the Red Cross perseveres with this nonsense then the Lichfield mouse (see left) will soon be for the big mousetrap in the sky.

Why stop at pantos and mice? Why not have ago at all those ambulances* (not just in the UK, but worldwide) that dare to use the symbol? Or would that problem be harder to crack than the local kids pantomime?

Film producers be warned – if you are planning a documentary about the Crusades then you had better forget it, because the symbol is sacrosanct. The fact that it has been used elsewhere for hundreds of years apparently means nothing. Isn’t it simply the cross of St.George?

Oh – and if the Red Cross is looking for more red cross users to assail, why not have a go at this one – it’s BIG, because the red cross symbol is used on thousands of vehicles and letterheads. It is the City of London crest. Does it breach the Geneva Convention? Possibly…

I can understand why the Red Cross wants to protect the use of the symbol, but a panto? Has it lost its sense of proportion, doesn’t it have better things to do? Why does the word ‘jobsworth’ spring to mind? La-la land is alive and well. We are living there.

The Red Cross appears to have forgotten where its funding comes from, oh yes it has. Oh no it hasn’t… Oh yes it has…

The BBC report is here.

*military ambulances can use it

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A pheasant surprise


I suppose I could have lowered the tone of this blog post by calling it pheasant pluckers, in memory of a little ditty I heard years ago but couldn’t repeat in mixed company. But I didn’t, and we’re all grateful for that.

Each year the RSPB asks twitchers / birders / birdspotters to carry out surveys of birds in their garden during a one-hour period. I know from experience that the RSPB does not include this little beauty on its list (big beauty actually, she’s around 30cm – 1ft – tall). I suppose it’s just as well, because chances are she won’t be around on the day of the next survey, there will be the usual sparrows and blue tits (and perhaps the woodpecker if we ask her nicely). We have had three pheasants in our garden in the snow (and we have a garden, not a country estate) – two females and one male. The male is a lot more flashy than the females. No comment.

The RSPB survey is here

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To BP or not to BP…*

I have gas central heating and a gas hob. It’s probably not the same gas you use because chances are yours comes through a pipe. Mine comes from a large tank in my garden that is refilled by a BP Gas tanker. Until last year I had to check the gauge on the top of my tank, and when its contents dropped to around 30% I logged on to the the BP Gas website and placed an order for more. The system worked well. I usually had a delivery within one week of placing the order.

This has now been superseded by new technology. I am told that I no longer have to read the gauge and place orders because my tank now has a transmitter that communicates with BP. A month ago I found the transmitter covered by one foot of snow and when I cleared it away I noticed that the gauge showed 30%. Because the transmitter had probably been unable to transmit for a while I ordered a top-up on line and explained why I had done it. I told BP that the access to my tank was clear and that surrounding roads had been snowploughed and gritted.

Christmas came and went. New Year came and went. Still no top-up. My tank level now reads 10%, the needle is well into the red, and in case the thing that talks to BP hasn’t told them that, I have done it too.

Thankfully we are having a heatwave, it is +3ºC today instead of the -8ºC to -22ºC we had last month so I have turned the heating down (and off, whenever I can). Today I heard tankers, but none came to me. Instead they delivered heating oil to my neighbours.

You would think BP would want to sell as much gas as it possibly could, given that they have rather large bills to pay elsewhere in the world. As far as BP is concerned, President Obama and I are not happy bunnies.

*and the question is (posed not by Hamlet, but by me), will that tanker come before I run out of gas? If it doesn’t then I’m going to be looking for someone else to supply my gas, I’m sure other companies will be interested.

Watch this space…

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Human Croquet

Kate Atkinson has done it again. For me, anyway. I have to admit that I needed all my little grey cells to keep up with the intricacies of the plot and the abundance of characters. I knew I would love the book when I read: ‘…the marmalade is the colour of tawny amber and melted lions…‘ It has taken me a few weeks to get through it due to:

a) the snow
b) the cold
c) Christmas
d) the snow and the cold and Christmas

I finally finished reading it today after a brisk (and very cold) short walk in the hills to zap the cobwebs and burn off last evening’s alcohol (well, it is Scotland. And it was Hogmanay).

Oh, and in case you haden’t noticed, today’s date is 1.1.11. Or 1.1.11 if you are in the USA.

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