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29 June 2013

The Sun's gone down .. Time for Bed

Light was on the face of the deep. And the Energy Minister said, “Let there be darkness” and there was darkness.

Apparently, here in Britain, we have been rather lax in securing our future energy requirements. We have been keen to shut down so-called “dirty” power stations, and reluctant to start building new nuclear power stations. Now there is talk about a looming energy crisis in which we face winter-time power cuts, and the Government might have to instruct industries to cease consuming energy at certain times.
How might this affect us? Should we be worried? Perhaps we might rediscover that old Wartime Spirit that apparently held our communities together when Adolph set out on his Grand European Tour and started bombing the hell out of us. Keep calm and carry candles.

I’m trying to be optimistic. There must be some upside to the threatened loss of heat and light. For starters, in order to reduce the risk of excessive demand  there could be an upturn in employment prospects by commissioning thousands of street wardens (steel helmet optional) parading up and down shouting “Put that light out!”
Without television, radio, computers or smartphones, we would be forced to reintroduce the concept of conversation. Without heating we would increase the employment of clothing manufacturers (obviously doing everything manually) to provide the extra layers of clothing we would need. Here in Britain we already have the advantage of winter clothing being equally useable as summer clothing, since it is often hard to tell the difference between these two seasons (if you ignore the presence or absence of leaves on the trees).

On the more cautionary side of the argument, we must be prepared for a sudden surge in population as couples give up on the herculean task of talking to each other and retire to bed when the sun goes down. The inevitable increase in amorous couplings is also more likely following the necessary eating of evening meals by candlelight – often a romantic activity.
Talking of candles (again a welcome surge in prospects for candle makers) another advantage for those of us who are workaholics would be the unlimited opportunity to burn them at both ends.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live near the Houses of Parliament, or perhaps even near provincial town council chambers, will be able to sit around collections of national or local politicians and benefit from the hot air that they exude.
Perhaps we should have woken up to this energy problem years ago. At the moment all we can point to as evidence of some thought to the matter are the woeful inadequacies of the so-called green energy schemes such as wind turbines and solar panels.

Wind turbines have achieved the mutually-exclusive emotions of a false sense of security combined with anger and jealousy against the landowners who appear to be the main (financial) beneficiaries of these monstrous windmills that blight our landscape, kill birds, cause an annoying hum, and provide very little energy. When the wind isn’t blowing they are useless, and when the wind is blowing hard they have to be shut down to protect them from damage.
Solar panels are undoubtedly useful, but have the downside of making your house roof appear extremely unattractive. If you live in a National Park that imposes stringent planning restrictions on pretty much everything you might want to do, you can be refused permission for windows, walls or doors that do not “fit in” with the surrounding area, but it’s apparently OK to replace a tiled roof with huge shiny grey panels.

Britain lives on top of a good supply of coal, but we closed down most of the mines in the 1980s and now have to import most of our requirements. Coal-fired power stations are apparently going to kill the planet, although technology exists to capture and store carbon dioxide. Gas is seen as the way forward, and we’ve now discovered that Britain lives on top of massive quantities of the stuff trapped in subterranean rocks. It can be released by a process called “fracking”, involving drilling deep into the rock , fracturing it, and releasing the gas.
The risks of earthquakes and contamination of water supplies is not a problem in the wide open spaces of the USA, but in this tiny overcrowded country of ours? Fracking hell!

London politicians are wetting themselves with excitement about this, especially as the biggest deposits appear to be in the North of England, from Blackpool in the west to Scarborough in the east. In the 19th century, the North of England was characterised by those dark satanic mills. Will the 21st century be one of dark satanic drills?
So switch those lights out! Light a candle. Enjoy seeing the stars; there’s bound to be a couple of nights without cloud cover this year.

Time for bed.



23 June 2013

Gardening and Peace of Mind – The Ultimate Contradiction

Don’t get me wrong. I love sitting in a garden, so long as someone else has created and nurtured this piece of heaven on earth.
No, the problem arises when, in order to have my own peace of heaven on earth, I actually have to create it and maintain it.
A garden is nature’s way of telling you that you can’t win; no matter how hard you try you are made constantly aware that given half a chance (or even a small fraction of that) nature will take over and turn your piece of heaven into a jungle of dandelions, ivy, long grass and assorted weeds and predatory shrubs: another kind of ‘heaven’ in fact – one for slugs, snails, moles, other people’s cats, and the odd travelling eco-beardy who wants to protect wasps.

I am pretty much in favour of wild flowers and grassy meadows with all kinds of furry creatures running about, but not necessarily in my garden.
I have three significant problems with a garden being defined as a place of peace and beauty.

The first is the disproportionality between the amount of investment (financial and physical) put in and the amount of returns I get.
The second is being surrounded by other people’s gardens which are infinitely more productive and beautiful.

The third is the amount of noise generated by 21st century gardening. No doubt many of you who are as long in the tooth as I am will remember the somewhat agreeable click-click sound of a neighbour clipping a hedge; or the low-decibel whirring of a lawn mower being pushed. As for trimming a lawn edge, that was a virtually noiseless occupation with a pair of long-handled shears designed for the job.
Now hedges are clipped by petrol engine-driven hedge trimmers, and they are surely the spawn of the devil.

Lawns are mowed either with mowers driven by petrol engines that should have had their exhaust silencers replaced ten years ago, or by equally noise electric mowers connected to the power by a trailing cable that wraps itself around every available stone or twig it encounters before being chopped in half by its own machine and blowing the fuse box off the house wall. (Unfortunately, thanks to various safety devices, the operator of this high-decibel machine is spared electrocution).
Tidy lawn edges are the perfect excuse for making high-pitched wining noises reminiscent of your last visit to the dentist, by the use of the Blessed Strimmer.

With all this going, the chances of a peaceful interlude in your garden are fairly remote.
We are all guilty of making some of this noise, but I do try to keep it to a minimum. My mower is a battery-powered machine (by Bosch if you’re interested). It is efficient, and neighbours have commented on how quiet it is. I have a large total area of grass, and this machine easily does half of it in one battery charge; then whilst it is re-charging (30 minutes) I spend that time trimming the lawn edges – but not with a strimmer. I can do a perfectly good job, thanks very much, using the long-handled edging shears. When that’s done I reconnect the battery to the mower and complete the job.

I have about 30 yards of 5ft high hedging to trim, and much as I would like to do all of this with a pair shears I confess to resorting to a battery-powered electric hedge trimmer (Flymo if you’re still interested) – which is very quiet. One battery charge appears to go on forever, and I’ve never had to stop a hedge trimming job in mid-cut, so to speak. (Memo to self: I need a haircut).
If I have tree or shrub branches to cut, my first choice is not the Chain Saw! There are, however, many who have hours of noisy fun conducting their own version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. No, I use a hand saw. That way, not only do I keep the peace, but I get much-needed exercise as well.

As the train of life that I’m riding in hurtles with increasing speed towards the inevitable buffers, I am more likely to want to resort to mechanical aids (if only to get up the bloody stairs after a day’s work within the conspiracy of nature against man that I call my garden). But I’m not sure why young, fit and healthy people should have to resort to them.
So there we have it – my rant on the peace of the garden, and if it stops raining I might just go out into my piece of peace to ponder on why my peonies produced buds that failed to open, why my laurel bush has turned black, and why my vegetables should be in the Guinness Book of Records under “Smallest in the World” category.