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The truth about being a parent

When I was diagnosed diabetic, one of my parents’ concerns was if I’d get to have children.

As a young child, with a mum and dad who didn’t spend much time at home while they were growing up due to going to boarding schools, they didn’t have much of a social life outside of work. Few of their friends had children.

I did not feel a social pressure to have kids as a kid but it was a vague idea. I was absolutely certainly I didn’t want to be having kids when I was past 30 – at that age, I’d have had type 1 diabetes for 26 years and that didn’t seem a viable option.

I’d spent a great deal of time travelling round the country for work before I got to university. Many of the men I dated seemed to want to get married. Getting married wasn’t really an ambition either (I am coming up to my 25thth wedding anniversary this year). I’d dated and did feel quite sad when things ended, but it wasn’t love in those cases. My husband is the only man I’ve cared about enough to argue with.

The travelling (and dating) made me want my own home. I didn’t go on holidays or buy flash toys and cars. I bought my house as a singleton in 1998. It was near my family, as mum had promised to help if I had children – both my parents were still working when I had my son.

Of course, life happens around plans. My pregnancy was not the joyous experience we’d waited two years for: an ovarian cyst meant it was painful for the majority of the time. We’d also bought a house 8 weeks before our kid was born in another village. Whihc meant my savings were not going to cover a year – my savings were swallowed up in the move. My granddad also had a stroke.

So my folks went from looking after their grandchild for a day down to nothing. Indeed, we my grandfather died moved 45 miles, but 124 minutes journey away.

I was lucky, my childminder was able to pick up the extra day.

And here we are.

Yawn, so what? You’re a boomer…

No, I’m a gen Xer, I just happened to do the kid thing early. I did get sterilised when my son was 4. This shocked my friend, who ended up having three kids: the doctors agreed to that? Type 1 diabetic, I have had a child, I knew what I was asking for and, long term, it would have been much cheaper and less impact on my body. My husband wasn’t even there for the conversation though he did chat to the obstetrician on the phone.

If you are not diabetic, women do not seem to be allowed to do this, even if their partner feels the same way. This seems bizaare: pregnancy and childbirth are not trivial processes to go through.

Of course, my friends are not the only people not having children. The number of births last year per woman went down to 1.6 children in the UK. I was considered a little young at 27 when I was doing this long task, the majority of new mums are in their late thirties.

At least we’ve done our bit.

My son has no plans of having children, it’s so far off his radar as to be unviewable. House prices had trebled since I bought my house as a junior manager, and wages have not yet doubled. Doing this on his own is not an option.

Childcare costs have more than trebled in the time. Quid pro quo, only young adults with private income can hope to have a chance of having young while they are young.

Because their 60 year old parents are still working and likely to be for the next decade. Unless they are rich and actually, they are the people with the interesting jobs…

We’re so obsessed with older people “earning their keep”, the young are ending up not having jobs.

In the meantime, while interest rates have gone up, house prices haven’t deflated because if you have a job, you cannot afford to move.

The people having child tend to be in bigger, nicer houses, so are using flexi-time to perform their own child-care.

Being disabled, it wasn’t an option for me. I would have been doing two jobs badly. It was hardwork anyway, but I can see why many are delaying the start.

Oh yeah, what should we be doing then?

The minimum wage works here. A parent has enough to live on while the other can earn a bit more than they’d have staying at home.

More importantly, gran and gramps can take that dip in pay to help out. This is what happen for my folks when my brother and I were babes and for a few months, helped me and family.

That reduces the need for as much paid for childcare, which allows the prices to drop. This works.

It works at another level too. Life is difficult with young children if you work and don’t have a car. The costs of housing and childcare mean those having children benefit from having two cars, and best will in the world, a push bike with a kid larger than a baby is very hard work. This is a nightmare for the environment – I have never done as many miles as I did when my son was below 12 and we had full time jobs.

Money for nothing…

The Bank Rate or the rate of interest charged by the Bank of England is important news, but as a history buff, when I sat down and worked out what it would cost me to buy a house I used a rate of 19%.

Why? I remembered seeing this as an advertised rate for a mortgage in Feburary 1991. The base rate at the time was 13.38%, but building societies often add 6% or so to their rates.

When I finally took out a mortgage in 1997, the base rate was 7% and I got a deal for 5.25% for 2 years, but I still worked out against that larger base rate, just in case the worst happened.

The Bank of England publishes this data at https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/boeapps/database/Bank-Rate.asp . You can see from here that the peak has been 17% in November 1979. Our current deal is 3.49% on top of the base rate => 20.49%, so actually the 19% wasn’t a bad worst case scenario.

Why are you talking about doom and gloom, surely this is terrifying some people out there?

That is not my intention. It’s just we’ve been very lucky the past few years with interest rates being so low and I am sure for many, it’s a nasty shock.

For me, it was an “OK, let’s take stock” moment rather than “let’s make a budget”.

Our plan has always been to pay off the mortgage as quickly as we can. Equity is only equity if you have no debts.

Which will leave us in a different situation once the deed is done.

I am lucky to have a full state pension and a 20 year BT pension (although my earnings weren’t that great, it is index linked). If I die, half of these will go to my spouse. These are not touched with a ten foot barge pole.

Like everyone in the country, I can have an ISA. While in debt, I didn’t do this but I was spending more than £20K per annum on my mortgage, so that’s a no brainer. I’m tempted to do three cash ones then some stock market ones.

Beating inflation

Saving rates never match borrowing rates. Full stop. So, any investments really need to earn more than inflation to be worthwhile.

Which is the game.

Of course, there is also liquidity. I’m over 50 and have 16 years before I can draw my state pension. I need to be able to feed, clothe, and run my house.

If I can save £20k per annum, I can live pretty comfortably off that, if I need to, even with inflation at 4%.

Of course, if I can maximise my earning potential over the next five years, that’s got to be key too. It would allow me to down shift when I get to 60.

That’s kind of what it’s all about. A big safety net, if we need it.

What I’ve learnt the past few days.

Thankfully, I got a whole seven and half hours sleep last night and finally got my blood sugar behaving itself.  Looks like the bug is on its way out, I now get to recover.  I’m taking a couple of days to gently get back some stamina before starting work again – the idea is not to go back too early and find I am then not fully recovered.

Hopefully, that’s a reasonable course of action.  If only foresight was as good as hindsight!

Yawn, is this just about being old?

Cheeky.

Now, I’ve been finding out about the freely available smart data available in the UK from a company called n3rgy.

Simply register your meter with its MPAN (Meter Point Administration Number for electricity meters or MPRN for gas which is the Meter Point Reference Number) and its IHD MAC (the in-home display access point number).

Eh?

The MPxN is found on your bill – this is how the power generators and resellers get to bill you.

The IHD is a second look up.  If you have both gas and electricity, you only need the electricity one to get access through n3rgy.

It’s a lot of scribbling down long reference numbers but once registered you can get your browser to remember these for you.

Then the fun begins.

OK, I’m intrigued: how so?

You can download your meter data.  For gas, this forms two sheets, one with the tariff (largely blank for Ovo users), and the other with your consumption in cubic meters…

Hold on, m3?  Aren’t we billed in kWh?

Oh yes.  Naturual gas is not measured in kWh but in the volume of gas delivered.  This then has a calorific (power) value multiplied to it and a conversion to kWh and a correction (wobble) factor.  The calorific value varies day to day and is available from https://www.nationalgridgas.com/data-and-operations/calorific-value-cv but an average of 40 works quite well.  (This website is going to take some figuring out to get the data for us out, but there is a great deal of information out there.)

The electricity is all a bit easier seeing as a kWh is just what the meter is measuring and there’s none of these extra steps.

The really interesting thing is you can see what is really happening.  During the winter, unsurprisingly, the V2G is not coming to the fore overnight.  The windy nights we’ve had recently mean there is plenty of wind power – upto 60% – and a small amount of solar, meaning only 1.3% of our electricity in the East of England is coming from buring gas as I type this.

Which is really hopeful in allowing the UK to reduce its carbon footprint for energy generation, making the move to electric vehicles much better all round too.

If we could recharge me as easily, life would be pretty good.

As I’m not up to working…

I love reading, but just fiction wanes after a few days. So, I’ve been catching up on some type 1 diabetes literature.

The American government is particularly keen on publishing papers, and Type 1 Diabetes Through the Life Span: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association caught my eye.

One of the difficulties we have in replacing our insulin requirements with externally provided insulin is that’s only half the story.  Insulin production in humans is couple with C-peptide release, which shuts off glucagon production in the alpha cells of the Islets of Langerhans.

However, quite a few type 1s retain this ability, for as long as 40 years after diagnosis.  Only it’s not a constant, guaranteed rate.  If we imagine that my body, like yours, is still producing beta cells but, unlike you, then systematically destroying them – this makes sense.

But leaves us with an impossible conundrum – how much insulin do we need day to day?  “Madness is doing the same thing every day and expecting different results” is attributed to Albert Einstein.  With type 1, doing the same thing every day can lead to wildly different outcomes.

Hell, no wonder you sit there frowning at your meter!

Rude, that’s just rude  But yes, it is not always trivial.

Many see hybrid pumps as being the answer – I have to say the past few days, it has actually helped.  But that’s because I haven’t been eating and things have been crazy with my infection.   Who knew that’s what it would take to get it doing reasonable things?

Not eating is not a long term viable option though (my results when travelling into London have been helped a great deal by taking this approach, so short term: it’s fine).

One of the other things that’s been interesting with the articule has been the approach to care.  When I moved away from Ipswich, I found most GPs liked to “manage my diabetes” which was a different approach to the one I’d had in Ipswich, where the focus was training to allow us to make adjustments ourselves day to day and check it’s working every 12 to 6 months.

In my various type 1 groups, those of us who do better seem to be the self-managers. Long term. Surely if the numbers support this, that’s what every clinic and GP should be looking to do?

Number crunching while I cannot do much else

I did a maths degree and computer science because I love the synergy of what can be done with number processing.

Computers can chew through series without pausing to take a breath: what’s not to like?

While I’m physically laid up, and 45 minutes playing with these numbers, I am shattered – I am supposed to be going back to work on Wednesday…

Focus! Why are we here today?

Good point. I’ve pulled out our smart meter data, and it makes interesting reading:

I’ve enclosed the graph of the electricity and gas consumption against our electricity production.

Energy consumption and production

Now, this data is looking at the full 90 days available to me, though I might start just pulling off calendar months…

We can see here that while we are consuming electricity, we are also producing (and donating) electricity. Though at vastly different rates.

In our case, that production is from our solar cells and are car donating electricity into the grid.

The only way we can tell which is which is by comparing our solar and V2G logs.

We are not in Kansas any longer, Dorothy. Imagine how complex this gets once you combine in microgeneration from combined heat and power units or from wind turbines…

That’s not to say what the UK is doing is not very sane in terms of getting consumers to group together with feed in tarrif payments and buy-in subsidies. Since these have disappeared, of course, and prices have climbed, many more people are looking at batteries and other power storage mechanisms such as heating hot water (we’re doing this with a Solar iBoost).

Yawn…

Actually, Tonto, this might be one of the more interesting of the things I talk about here.

If we want to keep our energy targets and reduce global warming, this kind of thing becomes very interesting. Simple choices, such as cooking by microwave (last week, I used dramatically less electricity by cooking from scratch in the microwave). We all have a part to play and it doesn’t have to be by expecting other people to tell us what decisions we need to make.

This data is available – what can you do with yours?

Brain is OK, rest of body…

I’m unwell.  I run a low body temperature, but when my body was doing everything it could to generate a fever on Tuesday, I took the hint, so while the body is weak, the mind is racing.

Type 1 diabetes means that all the mechanisms my body is relying on to get a fever are being over-riden by my desire to not die early, develop a blood clot (resulting in stroke, blindness, septicemia, or a heart attack), or diabetic ketoacidosis – which is a ticket to a hospital ward and a reasonable question of “what went wrong?”.

So it takes much longer to develop a fever and kick an infection to the line.

But type 1 is “just type 1 diabetes”, everyone knows that’s what happens when we’re sick 😉

What are you whinging about now?

Just that, we’re not that usual.  Rare disease day is coming and I was a little curious about what makes something a rare disease.  Aren’t you?

I guess, but your thing definitely doesn’t count!

That was my thought.  But this is a question of scale.  I’m one of around 8·4million in the world with type 1 with type 1 diabetes in 2021 (best confirmed numbers) against a world population of 7.888 billion (a 1000 million).  That means an prevalance of 0.106% of the world’s population or 10 of us per 10,000.

So, we’re not that far off meeting the World Health Organisation’s definition – an incidence of 6.5 (or less) per 10,000 or 0.065% of the population.

I’m a bit of a numbers geek, and as I said, it is all about scale.

Let’s look at Europe as per The US Government’s National Library of Medicine, Prevalence and incidence of Type 1 diabetes in the world, 2020, Table 2.
Only one place in the world where type 1 has a higher prevalance of 6.5 people per 10,000 in the world and that’s in Asia.

In my humbe Europe, we only count for 2.12 people in 10,000.

The numbers fall down when we look at the UK.  We have around 7.5 people per 10,000.  Common as muck 😀  Though in Scotland, that rises to 22!

Which is a bit surprising.  And also leads us to the definition of what type 1 is.  An autoimmune condition causing destruction of the beta cells.  Not someone who needs insulin to treat their diabetes.

This might seem petty but it is really important because insulin treatment can be a progression for type 2 diabetes though a sustaintially different and complex condition in its own right.

Those taking insulin (or prescribing it) are not necessarily the best people to ask.

Which leads us naturally to the fact there are three kinds of lie: lies, damned lies, and statistics – Mark Twain.

But no, unusual but not rare for the 29th January.

How could a footprint tax work?

In 1989, the then Conservative government brought in a poll tax. Rather badly as it happened as couples with a stay at home parent often had a much larger council tax bill each year – indiscriminantly, so the less well paid workers were hit hardest. In May 1991, the tax was abolished and a property valuation tax was introduced instead.

Personally, I like the idea of a tax you actually get to choose, but no further valuations of property have happened since 1991 – so we have bizaare cases where extended houses, which have a bigger impact in terms of waste generation and consumption of services may be paying very little to contribute.

Property valuation is also subject to interpretation.

I’d quite like to see a footprint tax, one that encourages the use of smaller properties by responsible owners. It is much easier to build a highly efficient property in terms of water and energy use if the property is smaller.

So, the first measure should be habitable space in the property. I think our council tax is about right and our house is 244m2, so shall we shall £12 per square metre?

The next measure is the ground space – how big is the plot and how much is laid to garden? Our plot is about 793m2 and about a third is lain to garden. Let’s say the house is 122m2, so that’s an available plot of 671m2 and about a third is lain to garden – that’s 115m2 – we need more soak aways and carbon sinking ground, so that’s charged at £1.50 per metre squared. The remaining 556m2 should be at a higher rate, so £3 per unit.

We should then do an environmental disturbance discount – we pay a grade lower for our house because we live on the busy ring road. Say, 15%. Railways, roads, etc should allow be taken into consideration because this is vital infrastructure to keep the country moving.

So:

  • House = 244*£12= £2,928.
  • Garden= 115*£1.50=£172.50.
  • Non-habitable, driveways, etc = 556*£3 = £1,668.

Total = £4,768.50.

Apply the discount for the ring road, and we get £4,053.23. This is about a £1,000 per annum more than we’re paying at the moment but this took me 10 minutes to calcuate and seems relatively fair, it seems representative of our impact on the world. If we built an extension, it is easy to calculate the footprint and add that to our council tax bill. In fact, you could automate that with planning applications.

The average house in the UK is 80m2 in urban areas and 123m2 in rural areas. The average garden is about 140m2 in London and 190m2 in rural areas, though modern builds it is much closer to 120m2, with two thirds laid down to garden.

The average family in a city would therefore pay £1,240 and in the country £1,856. We live in Ipswich, and an average home is deemed a Band D – £2,154.69. So this works out at just under £300 pa less, though I think in Ipswich there could be a great deal of difference between some small band Ds and some larger, extended ones.

An average house in a city is less likely to have a garden, so the flat owners would have a smaller bill. They are less likely to have off road parking, etc.

Isn’t it unfair if you build an extension which doesn’t go into a garden, like a loft conversion?

I’m going to throw that back to you: you convert the loft into habitable space, what are you doing to keep it habitable? You have things in there, heating, lighting, windows, flooring, etc. Things all have costs in terms of environmental impact and the extra living space will be used by the next people who live in the house. Which is likely to drive up environmental costs and potentially service costs.

One that chews up garden is going to need foundations, is removing soak-aways – that cost is bigger, but you are losing space outside. Let’s say you build an attached garage with a room above it – the garage could be charged at £3 per metre squared and the room for £12 per metre squared – you would only be billed the extra for the extra space.

One of the beauties about this is the council tax bill is equivalent across the country – a small house in London (and many properties in London are small as there is a finite space and people who want to live there) would pay less than a big house in the country even though the cost of the properties is likely to be similar. London council would still have a fortune coming in, because there are millions of households. Council’s across the country would have an easy way to calculate their budgets because they know how much habitable space is in there boundaries. Much more importantly, when people extend small houses, removing them from the housing stock, the council can easily get the money from those changes.

We’re in the barmy situation where living in Ipswich is a larger house is significantly cheaper than living in the country where we’re paying a “rural tax” for some services. Our council tax bill for a house that is 80m2 bigger is £750 on average less a year!

You could even link up the EPC to help: an EPC is generated each time a house is sold if not every 10 years. They do measure the living space, as this is a key factor in determining how energy efficient a house is.

What about discounts for sole living and empty houses?

Because of the lack of housing stock, the “empty house” rebate is no more.

But what about sole living? If my husband died and my son moved out, I am living in 244m2 house on my own.

I do think it’s different if you have dependent children and perhaps there should be a discount in that case, especially in the case of death. But we have families living in small accommodation when rich people get to live in large houses: shouldn’t there be a redistribution of wealth if we’re not getting family houses being freed up?

Council tax is the only tax you choose the rate at which you pay. Shouldn’t what you pay be determined by what you have chosen to live in?

Our way

Of the holiday season, New Year’s Eve is my favourite day and I still have to wait one whole day for it.

Having had the feast on Christmas Day (turned out really well, despite some miscommunication), and cleared it and the left overs away (final meal today, largely thanks to visiting friends and relatives), I consider what I would like to happen next year.

I don’t make resolutions. I do set targets of what I think I’d like to look back on and think “I did that” this time next year.

This doesn’t mean the plans are unfolded in January – on 31st Dec 2005 I decided I was going to learn to ride a motorbike. It took until April to save up enough to buy a small bike, so that’s when consolidation happened. The next year, I decided to learn the piano (like the motorbike, not something you completely achieve in a year) and started by buying a descant recorder on the basis that was significantly cheaper and if I didn’t stick with it, a piano was not a reasonable thing to get.

I bought my electric piano in June. It cost less than the motorbike and I got to grade 4 over the next 5 years.

It’s very hard not to just focus on clearing the mortgage, because that shouldn’t take the whole of 2024. It’s a notable achievement but a bit empty, if you know what I mean.

I normally try to think of something I’d like to be able to do, somewhere I’d like to travel, and something that would help enrich my life. I appreciate that for many the first two items would do that, but I’m talking more about the day to day things that make life easier or bring a smile to my face.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, we made the decision to put in fitted units to our bedroom and facilitate reorganising our ensuite for example. Thanks to lockdown, the ensuite wasn’t done until 2021, but the task was significantly easier thanks the groundwork undertaken in 2018.

Of course, being in a partnership, it’s not just about me. My husband is looking at building a path to our back fence and inserting a gate so we can walk and get our paper on a Sunday more easily. This should be an easy task but the fence is a little unusual being completely custom. Which may mean completely replacing the fence.

A year long task, perhaps?

BSL has become a GCSE option, so I could do some groundwork on that. Our niece has moved from America to the Netherlands, so that’s somewhere to go… Happy New Year x

Success in 100 minutes of cooking

Monday all went without a hitch. The bird went in to the second of the right time and came out duly. As my beloved husband was doing the potatoes, he did not feel the need to tell me when, so I did forget to take the foil off at the wrong time and he didn’t put the top (non-fan) oven on the right temperature, but all in all, it went without a hitch.

I know many do not see the point of a turkey, and if it were just my husband and I, I wouldn’t. A small goose or large duck would make a magnificient feast for two. But we had four omnivors and one vegetarian, so it was lovely to have something different.

I even like the left overs, though I work hard to ensure nothing is kept for more than 5 days. Next week, we won’t be eating much, having feasted all week.

And that was the whole point. The midwinter’s feast was the last of the vegetables from summer and the first meat kill from the farm stock. The people alive today are geared towards having periods of fasting – we even geared many of our religious festivals around it. Like Christmas and Easter in Christianity and Ramadan in Isalm.

Modern farming gives us a delemma, as do many cookery programmes and ready meals. We’re not meant to feast once a day, every day.

During a normal week, I eat lean. 20g of carbohydrate for breakfast (either juice or yogurt), 40g for lunch (typically one sandwich and water) and 50g for tea (main meal of the day, a feature starch – pasta, rice, or potatoes and vegetables and protein).

The weekend is typically two meals a day, a snack and a big meal with 60-80g of a starchy carbohydrate, 60-80g of protein source, and sauce and vegetables. Bread for the snack or soup without anything else: my soups are vegetable based, so extra starch is not a necessity.

I don’t know if this is usual, but it works for us. We eat more in the summer, when we’re physically more active and then cut down as mid-winter comes. I like to exercise outside, so the cold and wet is not conducive to building up a sweat! I do belong to a gym, but while I do enjoy the endophin high, getting me and my gear over there is not always going to happen when a 15 minute stroll into town is much more enjoyable, especially with company.

Normally, I don’t take that much time off work at Christmas, preferring to save my leave allowence for a skiing trip in January or early February. This year, we are giving it a miss in favour of taking that money off our remaining mortgage. We’re paying half our take home in order to clear the mortgage early. We were very lucky that mortgage rates only went up when our mortgage was nearly finished, but there is no point frittering money when the end is in sight.

Looking at it a different way, we’re living lean on the food scale and the life scale while it is comfortable to do so without huge scarifice – a winter holiday is not an essential on anyone’s list who doesn’t professionally ski for a living.

The house is warm and well cared for. I have clothes to last for the next couple of years. Once mortgage is paid off, our expenses are only 15% of our earnings – that’s food, land tax (we call that council tax in the UK), transport, heating, water, and electricity for cooking and washing clothes.

We replaced many of our appliances over the past three years and the last two rooms in the house to need major work are the family bathroom and the kitchen. The windows do need replacing. The current plan is windows first, then bathroom, and finally the kitchen.

The hope is we don’t ever have to borrow again.

Which means building up a six month salary savings pot (which should cover 3 years of being unemployed with careful budgeting), then doing the major work for the house off savings. Good grief, that sounds grown up and sensible!

As that’s the plan, I’d better start doing rather than talking. Happy 2024.

Not going out, we’re just staying in

Caught up with an old friend today but took a bit of a risk and cooked something relatively new.  Which is always a bit scary not least when you’ve kind of insisted on it (makes my life a bit easier).

To make some much needed space in the fridge, I’d already decided to cook a Spaghetti alla Carbonara before I’d known about my friend coming over, so a quick check on quantities, and the plan is on.

But working out a recipe while being company needs a bit more prep than normal.  Before anyone arrived, I measured out my portions and ingredients and kept things in the fridge.  I filled the pan with water for the pasta, weighed out the butter for the Carbonara and for the brandy butter on Monday and realised that the order I’d picked up on Wednesday for Christmas day was lacking a Christmas pudding.

Get back to the original story!

Sorry, yes, prep.  Having sorted everything out for Monday (my beloved popped out to source a pud), when Jon got back, I started the cooking.

And it did work amazingly well.  I did stop talking, I am not someone who can cook and make interesting conversation, in fact the concentration it requires from me is one of the joys I find in cooking, but I cooked something very edible.

Of course, this is glossing over the fact I screwed up chopping up the bacon, I forgot to put on my apron so Jon helped to dress me.

But food was served that was enjoyed.