Tuesday 22 March 2016

Going right off the boil

"It's not often you get a job like this where the boiler is totally ****ed and you need to get a new one," laughed the heating repair man as he adjusted the drawstring on his Stetson, holstered his six-shooter, snatched £40 from my trembling grasp then galloped off into the sunset.
And he wasn't even on a horse.

RIP Old Oily
2006 - 2016
Yes, like the late, great toupee-headed trickster Paul Daniels (and the kitchen door security light) our oil-fired heating system has sadly passed away. Jusht like that.

I remember happier times back in 2014 when we first met the boiler. Old Oily.
There it was, all massive and lonely in the corner by the Dining Room chimney breast, looking for all the world like a washing machine which had eaten another washing machine, and like a nervous puppy we took it under our wing and lavished love, attention and heaps of cash upon its oversized, neglected innards.
It was serviced by a Man Who Knew What He Was Doing; a great big red metal drum which contained some kind of important diaphragm was replaced; the vital and hideously expensive tiger loop thing outside was replaced with a brand new one which looks like a spaceship; settings were adjusted and tweaks were made and eventually, over a remarkably extended period of time, we brought it spluttering back to life, filling the house with the welcome and comforting aroma of thick, choking diesel fumes.

But we had heat and we had hot water which was, quite liderally, on tap.
Granted, at least half of the radiators had been removed and the hot water tap in the bathroom had to be turned on and off with molegrips, but there was an element of comfort that was well worth something in the region of 600 English pounds.

But after a couple of months of toasty bliss and shafts of sunlight piercing the haze of blue fumes, the Halcyon Days were over. Trouble was coming.

The boiler was fitted exactly 10 years and one day before it was declared dead. How weird is that?
It all started a couple of months ago when the hot water began playing silly buggers. Water of the required temperature would come from the taps for all of 30 seconds before rapidly flash-freezing our fingers, so anything we needed to do with any element of warmth needed to be over within a very short period of time.
But hot water wasn't a huge problem because we could boil the kettle for the dishes and the shower is electric. The only annoyance was washing our hands in Arctic ice-melt, but it was something we could live with.
When the lime plastering started we had to switch the heating itself off so the screed didn't dry out too quickly but after a couple of weeks of depressingly-cold temperatures in the house (4C at midday, anyone?) we negotiated for the heating to come on low for one hour, three times a day, which it did for a couple of weeks.

And then it didn't. And it hasn't ever since. The Big End has gone kaputt and there's no hot water at all now either. It was just a £500 pump too far.
RIP fella - at least we tried, even though we could have bought most of a new boiler for what we paid to have you resurrected. You ungrateful lump of useless scrap.

We can only assume that we upset Old Oily by getting gas hooked up to the house some weeks ago. It was the last straw for it.

As demonstrated by the picture, rush hour outside The Lodge
was chaotic for a full week. The work itself took half a day.
I didn't blog about it at the time but, very briefly, before we moved here we made the daft mistake of assuming that if gas could be routed here, it would have been done by now. All of the other properties in the area are on oil and there's a large customer base around here for a reason, so getting connected to gas would either be impossible or ridiculously expensive.

Then while Dawn was bored between jobs at work one day she made a phone call to the National Grid, just on a whim.
It turned out that not only did the main gas pipe for the village a mile down the road pass within 10ft of our boundary wall, but connecting to it would cost the measly sum of £265. Why hadn't we checked nine months earlier???
So we got connected before they changed their minds, and even though it's just a blanked-off pipe coming through the wall with nothing on the end of it, a gas supply forms a huge part of our long-term Kitchen extension plan.

Good idea, mate. Get that cigarette lit good and proper.

And here lies the point of this post - and there is one, believe it or not: don't assume anything. It makes an ass out of you and anyone else you can pin it on. It doesn't matter how convinced you are about something, check to be sure.

So now we need to have some discussions about what to do and when.

  • Do we get a cheap interim oil-fired boiler from eBay and have our friendly regular repair man (who found an ideal one online as he was telling me the bad news) install it until we're ready for a gas boiler? That's what he's done at home and he saved around £2,000 on new.
  • Or do we get a new gas boiler in now? But where would it go? The Kitchen is way too small to take it, even on the wall, and it's hardly ideal in the Dining Room, which is still being used as a dust-collecting storage room anyway. As well as that we want to extend the Kitchen, so how would we figure that in?
  • A third option is to sit it out, hope the weather improves, and see where we're at in the summer when plans may have moved on a bit.
I don't care what we do as long as I can one day have hands that are both clean and warm at the same time and I don't have to stand in the shower for 90 minutes just to thaw my eyes out. Small luxuries and all that.

All that bother for a piddly little pipe in the wall

Sunday 13 March 2016

Fox hunting again - lines are crossed

Before I begin: Pest control is perfectly legal, and that's fine. Foxes are regarded as pests and can therefore be killed, and that's fine too. I am not against the killing of foxes in a quick, humane manner. It has to be done, so just shoot 'em. Full stop.

What I am against is the jolly old British tradition of hunting foxes with packs of hounds, which is quite rightly against the law of this land.
I think it's a cruel, torturous way for a terrified fox to die as it is chased relentlessly through the undergrowth then literally torn limb from limb the moment it makes a mistake. I don't care what the Countryside Alliance thinks and I don't care about what legalisation would do for rural economies, hunting foxes with hounds is wrong.

Deadly serious: me and Dawn yesterday
That said, I uphold another British tradition by protesting quietly under my breath and not actually doing anything about it. I don't lay false trails, I don't protest at meets with a crackly loudhailer turned up to 11 and misspelled placard and I don't drag bugling horsemen off their trusty steeds and beat seven shades out of them, using their blood as warpaint in front of the world's media and gaggles of baton-wielding police officers.
I pretty much just keep it to myself.

I'm telling you this so you don't go thinking that I'm a sandal-wearing, yoghurt-weaving type of tree-hugging, handcuffed-to-railings nutjob - I'm just a regular bloke who can't see any justification whatsoever for hunting foxes with hounds.

So, now I've told you that, go and read my post from November about the first time our local hunt barreled through unannounced and my reaction to it...

...welcome back. The quick update is that we had our suspicions confirmed that there was nothing we could really do about the hunt coming through, so we decided to let them get on with it. Nobody said we couldn't try though either - it was more a case of shrugged shoulders and vaguery.
As promised, the Hunt Master dropped by a few days before the next hunt was due just to give us fair warning, and we (Dawn, too) had a chat and a bit of polite laughter while making it clear that while we don't condone the activity we're prepared to be civil for the sake of peace. This has happened three or four times over the last few months and sometimes we hear or see the hunt running past the end of the front garden or don't catch them at all. They haven't entered the estate through our gates again.

In retrospect - and I was kind of aware I was doing this at the time while deliberately not dwelling on it - I had somehow convinced myself that the hunt was just following pre-laid scent trails and the dogs were getting a good run out. A bit of fresh air. In the back of my mind I knew differently, of course, but it was the only way I could stay calm about it all.

Yesterday's hunt turned everything on its head, though, and for perhaps the first time in my life I have consciously decided to stick up for my principles instead of rolling over and pretending they're not there because it's less hassle. Such was the significance of the occasion that I forgot to get any proper photos, so CCTV screenies will have to do. Sorry about that.

It all started normally, with the Hunt Master forewarning us a few days ago that they might be around on Saturday.
Yesterday afternoon came about, somewhere around half four, and we were both outside when we heard bugling from the woods so we stood at the top of the trail leading away from The Lodge to watch. I have to admit that the sight of a full hunt powering through is one to behold if you put aside any moral objections.

The hunt was pretty scattered, which is seemingly normal, and one huntsman appeared at the bottom of the track and plodded his horse up to stand with us while the rest of his group sorted themselves out.

The arrival of the cavalry
We're stood in the top right corner - you can just see a pair of feet

We did the polite chatter thing again, then a few minutes later two quad bikes came along another track and joined us. Four people were aboard the quads, two older blokes, one younger bloke and an older woman. Every one of them a pig-squealing redneck.
When they motored off down the track and in to the trees, we asked the huntsman what part they played on the hunt. His answer was vague at best and he didn't really commit. Maybe something to do with dogs... maybe not... nice day, isn't it?

Right then a fox came running like hell through the undergrowth, crossing the track right in front of us and crashing off in to the trees.

Caught on our front garden cheapo NatureCam CCTV, this is what a petrified fox looks like when it's running for its life.
It crossed the track in front of us a few seconds later, followed 30 seconds after that by a hound.
And I'm not sorry to say this, but I lost the plot.
There was no time for me to consider my reaction, no time to think about what to say - I lost it in an instant.

All of a sudden I effing hated the man on the horse beside us and I hated everything he represented. Never in my life have I experienced such a sudden surge of... what? Revulsion? I literally started to feel sick and developed a pain right across my stomach. All of a sudden my passive compliance was out the window. In fact I was so angry that I was close to tears - do you get that? You're not sad or scared but you're suddenly so furious that your unconscious reaction is to blub? That's me. I hate it. I'd be a terrible professional boxer.

As always with sudden adrenaline rushes, I don't really remember what I said shouted in his general direction but I strode off down the track at the same time ready to take on every hound with my bare hands before it got past me. Fortunately the main pack was crossing the track further down, but one hound was right on the fox's scent and followed in its wake 30 seconds later only to be faced by a mental version of me, screaming and waving my arms at it. It ran off in a different direction.

I continued shouting and gesticulating wildly at the huntsman while fending off a confrontation-hating Dawn as she tried to calm me down and he quickly left the scene without another word, presumably before I could locate a weapon. I managed to inform his firmly-turned back that I'd had enough of being polite and I'd be closing and locking the gates whenever I know they're out from now on.

Then, in something of a surprise move, Dawn left too.
She wandered straight ahead in to the trees without saying a thing and vanished for 20 minutes. She didn't even look back. It was like a preamble to a bad psychological thriller.

It turned out that whereas my lovely wife was in full agreement with the sentiment of my message, the range of words I chose to use from my otherwise pretty extensive vocabulary was somewhat limited and, often, too 'specialist'. And loud. The delivery was perhaps a little off too. She wasn't terribly pleased with me for that, but that wasn't why she wandered off - she wanted to give me time to settle down while she looked for fox remains in order to justify blasting a blunderbuss at the hunt next time it passed through.
She didn't find any, but she did hear suspicious human noises coming from the undergrowth a short distance away... so we went to investigate.

The noises were at the end of the quad bike tracks in the grass, off the path in a secluded part of the woods behind thick rows of rhododendron. Voices, chopping, snapping branches... manual labour sounds. But there was no way to find out what was going on without being totally obvious about it and putting ourselves at potential risk. Anecdotal accounts that I've heard over the years from people who actually know these things suggest that hunt participants can be just as... er... defensive and unpredictable as their saboteur counterparts.
Then, as luck would have it, we heard the quad bike engines start up so we did what any fully-grown adults would do and ran away to hide in the trees with our hoods up as they drove on by.

Pictured from inside the enclosure looking out, the
only pathway to and from the den was crudely hidden
from view with pulled-over foliage
The area of rhododendron they had been in was kind of horseshoe-shaped, with one way in and one way out, which the people had tried to hide by pulling foliage across the entrance. Beyond the 'barrier' (being careful not to step in any traps) we found five large entrances to what appeared to be a reasonably-sized earth. Four of the fox holes had been dug out but there was no blood, no bodies and no signs of anything violent having taken place.
So we took some photographs then went back home.

Now here's the thing: Which, if any, laws have been broken?

Organised hunts like this aren't allowed to specifically target foxes with hounds, but by digging out an earth while hunting with hounds is going on in the immediate area thanks to a group you're clearly with, isn't the Hunt Master blatantly ignoring the law?

But here's the other thing: I know what they were up to and Dawn knows what they were up to, but everything can be easily explained away by the hunt if it came down to it. They were just out for a run with the hounds. Maybe the quads weren't part of it. Maybe the quad people had guns to shoot anything they found - it's not illegal. Maybe they thought they'd do a little ad-hoc pest control while they were out... all of that easy, indisputable bullshit which hunts no doubt rely on up and down the country all year round as they deliberately circumvent the Fox Hunting Ban.

I don't exactly know the purpose of digging out fox holes
without doing anything else. My thought was that they'd be
back later with terriers. Either way, doing it as part of an
organised hound hunt has to raise some questions, right?
I know that there are bigger things to fret about than what effectively amounts to simple pest control, but they've pushed my buttons and I want to do everything I can to disrupt them now. I want to get the police involved, lay false trails, dig a pit for the quads to fall in to, shoot stuff... but I'm not going to, no matter how angry it has made me.

Nevertheless I'll still unleash my tiny anarchic side next time they pass through - I'll not only be closing the gate but I'll lock it this time, too. Even if the horses don't always come through that way, it'll still mess things up for the quads and other hangers-on.

EDIT (March 19) - The word 'Terriermen' has been mentioned to me. Not being a country boy I had never heard of them. Terriermen. Apparently it's a real word.
That's what they were.

Saturday 5 March 2016

Beep... beep... beeeeeeeep!

I've found one!

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd bought a Garrett Ace 250 metal detector so I could go digging for history around The Lodge, the first decent find from which was an aluminium thimble.

That simple thing - probably given away as a promotional item around the beginning of 1900 - kept us smiling for days, but it wasn't quite enough.

Because I'm an uncomplicated kind of chap the whole point of me getting the metal detector was to find coins. For me, coins represent the passage of time and history in a way that things can't do.
They're minted in a particular year which is clearly stated (unless you go even further back in time), then spend the rest of their lives being passed around by maybe hundreds or thousands of people as they go about their daily lives. Coins would be used to pay rent or wages or be offered in exchange for bread, meats, cleaning products, Calvert's Carbolic Tooth Powder, jewellery, clothing... stuff to make peoples' lives better or prettier or easier or whatever. None of this internet banking lark. No debit cards or contactless payments. Pah. These are from a time when cash was king.

It just feels like there's more life in old coins. Does that make sense or am I talking rubbish?

King Georgivs V couldn't even spell his own name
Anyway, I've found one!
After nigh-on 100 years buried in the mud, along comes an idiot with a fancy machine that he can't use properly and suddenly it's back in the daylight. I know metal detectorists treat such finds with little more than idle curiosity once they get used to digging them up, but for Dawn and I it's perfect and hopefully the first of many.

The obverse (I've been Googling) is in good condition and clearly shows that it's a George V copper penny, complete with monster moustache, which places it between 1911 and 1936.
The reverse is in poor condition, but you can just make out Britannia and the fact that there's a date there too, but it's very unclear. 

I've given it a brief rub with a vinegar and salt mixture, which has lifted some of the grime and decay, but it's still not entirely clear - 1916? That would certainly be a happy coincidence.
Nevertheless it's now soaking in olive oil for a few days, which also apparently helps, and hopefully I'll be able to read it better towards the end of next week. I'll update this post with new pictures when I can but in the meantime I might set up a 'metal detecting finds' page so I don't have to bore everyone with tales of my latest Tizer can ring-pull whenever one makes an appearance.

EDIT - I made the page then I ditched it. I've run out of land to detect so while I write to local farmers for permission to roam their land and wait for their replies (I'm expecting it to take months) I've loaned the metal detector to a friend.

1916, maybe?

EDIT (March 10)

After posting this I decided to give the coin a brief soak in the salt/vinegar solution - just 10 minutes or so... then went to bed. Needless to say I'd made a right mess of it, with dull grey blotches, green patches and general unpleasantness on both faces. Not only was the tarnish still there but it was 10x worse. The only area of tarnish to come away encompassed the date, so it seems the pic above was always going to be the best I could get.My first coin (discounting a 1988 2p)... I was gutted. So I Googled again, where it seems the best advice is that less is more when it comes to cleaning. Toothbrush, water, nothing more.

But if you have to clean them up electrolysis is, apparently, the answer.

So having knocked together a DIY electrolysis bath out of an old 12v phone charger, some alligator clips, salty water and a spoon I left the coin fizzing away for a couple of hours. Of course when I say 'left', what I mean is 'switched off and checked obsessively every two minutes'.

Despite losing the date altogether the result is actually very good. I'm delighted that I've managed to save the coin and keep the it nice to look at.
George himself looks good (although to be fair he also looked good with the black 'just found' patina too. Britannia, on the other hand, has come up a treat. She could barely be seen originally but now you can certainly make her out, especially in the right light.

Anyway, enough of this. Photos.

How she would have looked in happier days