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Making good use of what you have, and stepping stones.

We spotted our house in January 2013 on an estate agents web site. My husband was away, so I took our son over to have a look – he was anti-moving, but I was shattered with the commute and where we were based – anything we did needed the car or motorbike or a long time to cycle.

We looked at three houses before hand, always with an open mind, but having had a double garage (motorbikes, remember!) and people coming round, a private driveway was an essential.

I love our place – I’m realising a dream of being gas-free in a couple of weeks – but like anywhere, it has its quirks. Be warned, these are definitely “boomer” and “first world” problems.

My kitchen took a long time to get into its current format, making the most of its L shape. It has 34m2, which is nice, but the way it is laid out means there is only one way you can put anything and have a workable space. (First world issues, I know).

I’m beating this, a little, I hope by buying a butcher’s block. This is a trolley (in this case) with cupboards and drawers that will allow my Kenwood Chef mixer+ to come out of the double cupboard it is currently consuming. This has several pluses, not least the fact I can use it without taking up more counter space. All the bits and pieces will be in the cupboards and drawers, making life much easier and cooking much less involved.

I hope. I have been specifying it on paper for eight months, so this is no rushed decision. I hope I’m right about the cost benefit analysis!

It should also allow a space for the Kenwood after we get the kitchen re-fitted. I have been pondering this for the past eight years (big purchases need to be correctly made and this will make a huge impact for all our lives, twelve times as long as a butcher’s block sounds appropriate, don’t you think?).

The overall plan is to lose four cupboards – one of which is the Kenwood’s home – and 1900mm of worktop, mostly where I use the mixer. Hopefully, the trolley will tide us over for both kitchen’s and the transitional stage. This will allow us to fit our current fridge into the main kitchen rather than sitting in the dining room area: on the plus side, anyone cooking learns to plan or gains a significant number of steps while cooking – it’s not so much a cook’s triangle as a 20′ dash to the fridge.

Of course, this all comes at a cost. Therefore, not happening any time soon. My butcher’s block will be a stepping stone between the old and the new. Helping solidify what we actually need.

All change, please.

When you DIY a project, preparation is key. If someone is coming in for you, making sure the decks are clear saves valuable time.

The heat pump is coming and the old boiler and water tank are disappearing. With luck, the old gas pipe too. How do we know which is the gas feed? Well, whoever installed the old gas pipe stuck the word “gas” at 9″ spaces along its length. Thank you 🙂 .

The new fitters are stopping the gas feed, so the space for the old pipe can be reused – the air to water heat exchanger uses water fed into the hot water tank. Magic.

Now, we are not saints. So, there is some prep we need to do for the install.

Making use of these two weeks leave, we buffered two days before leaving the house for a week for sorting out the house work as there is nothing worse than coming back to a dirty house! The couple of days we tagged at the end have been used to clear out the garage in prep for the heat pump gubbins…

It’s ended up being a little bit of a “holding pattern” area. Some of it was for the dump, some for charity shops. I was frightened it would take forever, but two people, three hours, and we have it all sorted. We have a space booked at the dump – annoyingly, I didn’t know we had some plaster board left, so that cannot go on Sunday – but the rest is good to go in the electric car: it’s bad enough we’re throwing stuff away, without compounding it with taking the ICE cars…

My beloved is just taking the “good to be reused” to our local charity shop, Sue Ryder’s. If you are not based in the UK, they do a great deal for people needing pallative care, details are here. They are a local charity, founded in the 1950s by a Suffolk woman looking to help those injured during World War II, which is one of the reasons I try to help them.

We’ve also tried to tidy for the crew. At least make the area safe. We’ve got next weekend to finish off the job, but all in all, glad I did this while on leave. A change is as good as a rest.

Why haven’t you asked how we feel?

I love politics, I love the philosophies, the study, the decisions people make and why they do so when it comes to putting their cross against a name.

But I have never been canvased by anyone but our local liberal democratic party. Which is good.

Being a stato, this year we not only were just inside the top 1% but, as a household, nudging the top 0.5%. Together, because of how tax works, we bring home far more than if one person earnt that money.

We each have 80m2, which is more than some families get to live in, and to be honest with you, having made the effort to clear the mortgage, apart from some big projects on the house, I don’t get to spend very much of what I earn.

Trickle down DOESN’T work.

More importantly, me being taxed more means hugely efficient places like the NHS can do really good things with the money. As a disabled person, I welcome that. The NHS means that unlike many other countries, my life expectancy is only 15 years than someone without type 1 and at a fraction of the cost. My doctors get to treat me without having to verify that I have the means to pay for that every single appointment.

I know this as I have done a couple of things privately, and a private appointment takes 30 minutes longer than an NHS one for exactly that reason.

The NHS is cheaper because it doesn’t need to pay debt collectors, invoice production, and receipt collection. It costs the NHS less than 45% than a private company for that very reason. That’s without financing the insurance companies, etc.

It’s a bloody bargin, yet we whinge about the tax it costs us? Wow!

Change the tax thresholds and up what the higher band people pay, please.

Anyone earning more than £50,270 a year pays higher rate tax. I do think that’s a bit low. It was changed in January 2024 and before that it was considerably lower.

It should probably be £57,000 or so, and change annually.

The level at which you start paying tax should probably be £18,000 and change annually.

It should cover all income – saving etc. You get extra allowances for savings. Why? Isn’t it basic income, earnings? If you are below the threshold, you shouldn’t pay tax. If we combine that allowance, the £18,000 becomes £23,000.

Plus it is cheaper to calculate and is much more comprehendable. Bargin.

20% on that first set is probably OK. NI is another 8%. Why not include that on the same levels. So that 28% and then VAT and council tax.

If I earn £28,000 and pay 28% on £5,000 of my earnings, my tax bill is £1,400. For all those in that tax band that earns the UK government £36,820,000,000 or £36.82B per annum.

A higher rate payer on £62,000 pay are paying £57,000-£23,000 = £24,000 at 28% = £6,720 and another £5,000 at 48% (let’s make NI work across the pay scale) = £2,400. So our higher rate tax payer takes home £62,000-£2,400-£6,720 = £52,880. Looks OK, looks like enough to get by on. That’s someone just over the limits in both cases, and so that’s the least the government would get, from those earners, a minum of £35.616B.

Can the government survive and give us what we need on a minum of £72B per annum?

Footprint taxes, please.

I would like to see councils able to charge people on the footprint they have. We shouldn’t go against “house prices” – what a vague idea, but on the space we take on the planet. EPC exists which gives the living space of a property. It’s already machine readable, charge per m2. Easy, cheap as it’s all already machine readable. We can randomly conduct EPC report generation on houses that haven’t had it down in the last 15 years too, allowing us to ensure environment measures are being taken.

The rich pay more than the poor – it’s ideal. It keeps council tax one of the few taxes you choose the rate you’re taxed at and should mean villages and town have equal access to funding.

More importantly, councils should be able to plan.

Should singleton’s get a discount? I appreciate the arguement is the widow or suddenly sole earner in a family suddenly having an increased burden. Probably the 20% discount is a fair way to do this.

Or empty houses? Harder to justify. The house still needs to be powered, is having rain run off happening is still taking up soak away space. So I think think if you own a second property, you need to pay the tax. After all, that’s your choice.

To outsource or not to outsource, that is the question…

Whether it is nobler…

What is this actually about, please?

In 2012, my role at work required a great deal of travel, as did my husband’s. Which meant the weekends were spent having some fun but mostly recovering from the pace. We weren’t even that old!

After coming home to a tip one evening, I decided to broach the subject of getting “someone in” once a week to do the cleaning. It transformed our lives.

Lockdown, of course, meant that was no longer the case, and of course, I was avoiding getting the bug at all costs. We stopped having the cleaner. Without the daily commute and often much further, pottering about the house during the weekend was much more doable. The house had never looked better – plus, that and the “not going out” allowed us to pay off the mortgage much, much quicker. When our kid moved back in, he took on his share of the duties and we’re pocketing £250 a month.

Except our monthly outgoings have suddenly dropped – no mortgage. So, do we make the case and bring someone in?

Pros.

  • Less time doing the cleaning, allowing more time during the weekend for some of the “extra chores” that have dropped off the radar. The internal window cleaning, the dusting, the upholstery cleaning, the gardening.
  • Less muss during the weekend, no avoiding the area currently being cleaned, a more relaxed area.
  • Time to get some decorating done over the weekend. We used to gut and do a room. I can’t imagine being in that position at the moment – while I write this, I’m waiting for the vacuum to become available so I can do my bit this weekend.
  • More time to go out. Get to the gym – I used to do that twice a week and walk miles! I used to go for a 20 mile cycle ride on a Sunday morning.
  • Helping someone with a job.

Cons.

  • We should talk about the money. The five years since we stopped getting a cleaner have meant £15,000 to us. It’s bound to have gone up.
  • Cleaning is physical activity. Vacuuming is about 100 calories an hour. Cleaning the bathrooms is about 250 calories an hour – that the same as cycling for an hour. We’ll be losing that.
  • We’ll need to make sure the space is tidy for the cleaner – this is the majority of the work, in my humble opinion. It’s their schedule, not ours.
  • We’ll have less connection to the house – while I’m cleaning, I notice things, like a leaking tap or worn bit of carpet. And the cleaning equipment.
  • Initially, a stranger in the house.
  • The work of employing someone. Never easy to be a manager.

As you can see, we’re weighing this up. We’re planning on getting the windows done soon, the heat pump is next month, and the family bathroom and kitchen are being considered over the next three years. All things that could make use of that money too – and the fact there will be times when some rooms are not available for cleaning.

Isn’t it just easier to make do, and carry on?


Finding a balance

I like to be busy. It drives my son up the wall: but if I am sitting down and see a task that needs doing, I am on my feet and looking for the means of getting it done.

This has some issues – I love my job but, if I’m not careful my “overly diligent” take on my job can mean I do not take the time to ensure I am working at my best.

So how can I manage such dilemas?

Hobbies help. You know I am keen on my eco-friendly living and that means I am doing something very different to my professional jobs.

Today, I have use the microwave to cook my chicken and produce four batches of stock. One batch will be used to make a tasty soup for later today, along with the bread I cooked on Friday, making use of some toil I’d built during the week.

Before any cooking happened, I cook my laundry on to make use of the solar – not much money coming in from the feed into the grid payments, but we haven’t spent anything on cooking.

We’ve been celebrating the prospect of living rent free next month, so using dishes that go well with some champers. To help achieve our dream, I’d written some simulations of what we could do without crippling ourselves and making the most of every pound earnt. Maximising our bang per pound, so to speak.

Many moons ago, I’d given a puzzle ring, sometimes called a Celtic Puzzle Ring or Hareem Puzzle Ring, in parts, on the condition that when I put it back together, I could keep it. Like a fool in love, I’d given it to a beau about six months before we split – I never saw the ring again.

So, I now have a replacement one. To keep fidgetty hands busy.

Of course, the next step is replacing our boiler… Then the longer term plans.

May be a bit of time sitting in the garden, enjoying the sun, and finishing off my bedtime reading.

Busy, making life good.

And breathe…

“People who grinned themselves to death – smiled so much they failed to take a breadth” is the start of a chorus line to the song The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death by the House Martins, released in 1987.

I’m not anti-monarchy, but this song always catches me on the thought that “there but for” blind luck, goes I.

My role in my company happens to be well valued.  It does help people, but not as much as the people who supply water to our taps or deal with what comes out of our loos and sinks.  Public sanitation in the UK enabled the industrial revolution and cheap food to happen.  IMHO.

But I never expected to end up here – there wasn’t a plan when I left university or school to end up working in technology.  Up to a point, technology was the means for keeping alive.  I have managed to beat the odds for that by some considerable way.

I’m saying that while having had the most awful day for a while blood-glucose-readings-wise.  There is an obvious reason, it’s just “one of those things”, thank goodness, due to road works, I was working from home today, trying to recover and earn my crust.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better one!

Picking up our skirts and running

I’ve always liked this term. I’ve felt it relates to the fact that many of the fashions in the past were quite restrictive to women (and in places, men) and so to do anything like running required concious effort.

It’s that pause, that hesitation before you realise that actually, there is little but yourselve holding you back. As the end of this month, and hopefully the mortgage comes around, I am begining to feel that.

My beloved feels this is entirely self-imposed. My zeal for paying off the mortgage against “having fun”, has caused angst where none was needed.

We were paying £300 in interest in December, this month we have paid £42. I think that makes up for using the kitchen a bit more often…

I’d hoped to splash out a little, for a month or two, but of course, the boiler broke. We are losing the gas boiler and a gas connection to the house. This has been a yen for a long time. I appreciate a heat pump was not the only solution – indeed, I would have an air to air solution in place if we had a blank sheet. Unfortunately, we don’t and have to make use of the fabric of the house.

That’s ultimately what this article is all about, the compromises that life brings. The constraints of choice brought about by budgets, physical space, weather and climate, location, and time. We all have them.

Feelings of ennui

It’s been both a productive and exhausting week, gaining some valuable inches in making things a bit better for those in the work place, well my work place, for those in the minorities.

I got the chance of 30 minutes away from my desk in a comfy environment thinking about all the things in our buildings that would make things accessible. Things like information about whether the lifts are working, information about nutrition so those with allergies, intolerances, and those having to cover metabolic functions have the information they need to make good decisions.

Being type 1, I get very frustrated when companies are giving our caloric values but not carbohydrate (CHO) values. Longer term, the former is vital to living a long and productive life – over the four hours after consumption, the CHO is life impacting for those covering their food intake with insulin.

We are in the minority, but CHO is useful for all those with diabetes mellitus and type 2 diabetics number about 5 million in the UK, about 8% of the population – and that’s despite the sugar tax which has limited many people’s choices due to PKU and type 1 diabetes.

Most artificial sweeteners are not CHO free, many are complex sugars like fructose, which are an absolute bugger to bolus for, the rest are protein based, which are recombined by the body to make, well, sugar. So rather than have something that tells your brain you’ve had a source of energy that is going to act now, they train the body to delay insulin release until later in the day. Not useful.

Basically, if the sweetener has a trailing “ol”, “ame” or “ose”, (e.g. sorbitol, aspartame, or fructose), it is one of those catagories. Saccharine is the only “real” artifical sweetener and, after cancer scares in the 1980s has not been widely used.

Back to the point!

I passed my list to someone else in the disabled community who thought it covered most bases, but of course, nothing is comprehensive.

For some reason, I am being bothered by something that happened to me five years ago. It was a traumatic event and, for some reason, I keep reliving it. It happens on the odd occassion, but this is nearly a daily occurance. My husband feels I should have been compensated a bit more than just getting my back pay for three months, but I’m not sure this is something you can chuck money at.

I’m trying to figure out the best thing to do. Not an easy thing to solve, that’s for sure.

Economies of scale

We moved house on a Friday, largely because that was the day my husband got back from Saudi from a business trip.

On the Sunday morning, as I was unpacking boxes, I noticed a small group of people waiting on opposite side of the road from us; then I noticed some properly classic cars going by. That’s interesting I thought, and continued unpacking.

The next year, the Sunday of the first May bank holiday, I noticed the same thing. 2014 we had our first barbeque and “watch the cars going by” get together.

Whatever…

The first few, we bought in much of the food.

Since Covid, it’s been a home-made do. Of course, this doesn’t stop there being more food left over than the mind can comfortably contemplate, but at least you know what.

It’s not cheaper, not by any means and that’s without the whole time piece: I made 8 beef and venison burgers in around 45 minutes from getting the beef out of the fridge to putting the burgers into the fridge and ignoring the washing up.

Is it tastier? It’s more to my taste. But that’s a different answer to the question.

I made Home made venison burgers, Lamb chilli burgers, Shepherd’s salad, Soured cream and chive dip,
Hummus, Coleslaw, and Home yogurt for the coleslaw. Technically, I made rolls but by Sunday, only two remained out of a batch of eight.

It might be easier to say what I didn’t make: relish, ketchup, salsa, and the soft white baps.

Whatever…

This what I learned.

  1. Do not cook home made rolls while hungry. They are delicious and will not last more than 1 hour after coming out of the oven. I wasn’t the only eater.
  2. Clean at least the day before. If you are cooking from scratch, there is not time to do everything and stay sane! Do ensure there is spare loo roll in the guest toilets.
  3. Burgers for nine take around ninety minutes to make the first time of the year – practice at least one weekend before hand! Even if it’s rainy.
  4. Beef burgers can be shaped using a large pastry cutter and spatulas, both of which go in the dishwasher or take seconds to wash-up.
  5. Lamb burgers do need the end of a rolling pin to shape, the spatula is not going to cut the mustard.
  6. Red onions go through the dicer on the Kenwood, regular onions do not.
  7. Cabbage is tough, makes great slaw, but the food processor is not up to the job! Use the continuous slicer.
  8. Making slaw makes a big mess.
  9. Use the dishwasher, have a bowl full of hot water and soapy suds.
  10. Keep the bin at hand.

Same for next year? Maybe. No shame in buying the food in.

An air source design

I swear, this April has been one of the coolest I can remember, not helped by the fact we currently have no central heating!

The boiler, rest in peace from 28th March, has been switched off, with all our water heating happening via our Solar iBoost. We’re spending 130kWh on heating the water on a planned timer ( 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening) a week. Whenever it is sunny, power is provided to the hot water tank, too.

This is compared to 400kWh a week on both heating and water last year. Quite a difference! And that’s not looking at the fact that heat exchangers (heat pumps to you and me) are typically much more efficient that other forms of heating.

But as we’re busy paying off the mortgage, there’s a big pause – thank goodness the weather is begining to warm up.

Is it cold down south, then?

There have been odd days this April, when it has been a little chilly. Oil filled electric radiators and lighting the fire has kept the chill at bay. Now the sun is shinning, despite outside being 16°C, our rooms have reached >20°C on average thanks to solar gain.

Our insulation means once the rooms have got that hot, they take more than 10 days to cool down. It’s not quite a passive house, but it is making the most of what it has.

All this is helping reduce our carbon footprint and that’s really the point of the air sourced heat pump. The the moment, though, it is nowhere near as cheap as a boiler for this sized house! Our scale is not helping at this precise moment.

Electricity is typically 0.20707kg CO2e per kWh in the UK. Gas is about 0.18293kg CO2e per kWh – so why switch to electrical heating?

Well, Gas heating is about 80% efficient, so for each kWh, we get 0.8kWh of heat.

Heat pumps are about 350% efficient, so for each kWh, you get 3.5kWh of heat.

That efficiency reduces the CO2 footprint while in use. In practice, a kWh in heat is 0.06kWh in CO2e per kWh. Which is why everyone is so keen on the idea. Our 30kW boiler is being swapped for the 10kW heat pump to give a similar performance. Teamed with the heat retention of the house, it should all be good.

We just have to pull our fingers out and get the installation booked. To avoid expensive costs, we’re waiting for my bonus to come through and the mortgage to be settled. No point in doing this on credit.

Costs of switching off the gas?

We still have our gas meter connected, although we’re not using anything. That means we’re just paying the “standing charge” – at our current tariff, that’s about £10 a month, or just under £120 per annum.

As we don’t use gas for anything else, we can lose that meter and that charge. Of course, that isn’t for free. The fee for removing the meter is £106 and it needs to be performed by the “gas supplier” – who are not the people who produce your bill each month!

Complicated, but should be worth the effort.