Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Annual Spending Review - 2014

It's that time of the year again.  Here's a breakdown of where all the money went in 2014....click for a larger image...

Basic ground rules are generally as last year's post, and a few points of note are listed below :-

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Hedgehog Rescue....

Around six weeks ago, we spotted a small hedgehog wandering around on the lawn in the middle of the afternoon.  It's a bad sign seeing any hedgehog out during daylight hours, and particularly autumn juveniles, so we picked him up and took him inside in a cardboard box. The wife fed him some cooked chicken while I set about building a hospital enclosure in the garden from some old materials and wire mesh, basically anything we had lying around.

We kept him confined in a remote area of the garden down the side of one of the sheds, made a nest box from an upturned plastic container with an entrance arch cut into one corner, and stuffed it with shredded paper.  

He took to his new territory immediately and soon lost his fear of us, even allowing the wife to stroke his nose without him curling up into a ball !

We fed him on tinned cat food, mashed-up boiled eggs, pet shop hedgehog food* and assorted kitchen scraps, and after four or five days he'd returned to more nocturnal habits.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Investment Review - November 2014

I'm considering posting updates of my investment pot progress on a more regular basis, maybe even at the end of each month if I can find the time and energy...

In theory at least, it shouldn't be too much of an effort.  On the last working day of each month, I usually log the portfolio component valuations based on bid prices refreshed at some time when the London market is open.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes over the next few months.

With each update, I'll also include the preceding post's dataset alongside, for comparison.  Therefore, in the first of such posts in this format, the right-hand columns in the Table below are those from this previous post.  

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Investment Review - October 2014 Portfolio

I'm full of cold and feeling a bit under the weather, so I didn't fancy working today.  

Instead, I thought I'd create a new spreadsheet which pulls in the data from the various individual investment sheets, and take a look at the values and weighting of each component against the greater whole.

This new worksheet includes the SIPP and the various ISA accounts, current and historical, plus those bonds which are held outside.   I'm getting closer to the age when the SIPP could be drawn down against if I wanted to, so I'm simply lumping everything in here together.

However, the cash component in the worksheet only represents the cash held within the SIPP & ISA accounts and available for immediate investment, and not any other cash I have in accounts outside.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Why does Daylight Saving Time start so much later than it finishes ?

From looking at my earlier post on growlights, it again raises a question that been puzzling me for a long time.  

Take a look at this sunrise-sunset-daylight hours graph for our location. from that post, but with a few extra intercept lines I've added.  Click for a larger image....

British Summer Time (BST) will end this year on 25/26 October 2014, but it won't begin again until 28/29 March 2015.  

Why should this be ?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Fitting a Roof Dry Verge / Roof Tile Edging System....

Our house was built in 1939, and the original three-up two-down building from that period is a really decent piece of construction.    

However, the kitchen and garage extension was added in the mid 1980s, according to the neighbours who've been here for thirty years, and the whole thing is just very roughly put together.  

One example is that the edges of the roof pantiles which overhang the brickwork are sealed either by mortar or, even worse, simply filled with expanding foam.   Although mortar was an established method of verge sealing, it wasn't the only option or the most decorative even 30 years ago and it's not particular suitable for this type of roof tile.

the short upper gable, with expanded foam and mortar joints....

Monday, 6 October 2014

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Building a Simple Electrical Heater - Part 2

Recent additions - electrical heater box and growlight panel, both on test

I've put this on a separate post to my original, because the whole design has now become a little more complex !

After building the two identical electrical resistance heating elements, I spotted a 6" (150 mm) 24 VDC fan at our local car boot sale a couple of weeks ago.  This was snapped up for £2.  

the fan....

With this addition, I thought I could maybe improve on my original free-convection idea and wire up this fan in parallel to our two heating elements, to push the air over the heaters.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Growing Palm Trees from Seed ...

My wife has always wanted a palm tree in our garden.  Despite my insistence that this is bloody-freezing Northern England and therefore it's just not possible, I've had to endure the accusing glances and disparaging comments whenever we've driven past other local gardens in which, admittedly, many appear to be flourishing.

Our nearest garden centre also stocks several of them, but they're all under the protection of the glasshouse areas and not standing out in the open ground.  The smallest versions are more than twenty-five quid each and they even want around £300 for some of the larger specimens !

Anyway, we were on holiday in scorching-hot Mallorca in early August, and on one of our many trips out and about on the hired motorbike we passed a Spanish garden centre and stopped for a browse.  

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Making a LED Growlight Panel

This is another build for the greenhouse electrics.  Growlights.

I've been reading up a bit about the light requirements of plants.  There's a lot of very technical stuff out there, but basically it seems that blue-ish light is best for seedlings & green vegetative growth and red-ish light for germination, flowering and fruiting.  

One of the many images from a Google search on the subject of plant light
requirements.  Unfortunately, this was one of several in a wide ranging
cut-and-paste job, and so I don't have the link for an acknowledgement....

Since the plan is to supplement the available sunlight in the winter when we start off the leeks and onions etc, then mostly blue seems the order of the day with just a splash of red.

It gets even more technical when they start talking about specific individual wavelengths within the blue and red regions for optimum growth, e.g. 439, 469, 642 & 677 nanometres, but blue is blue and red is red as far as I'm concerned - there must be at least some of the light emitted that touches on these optimum wavelengths.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Building a Simple Electrical Heater

This is following on from my recent post on the greenhouse solar installation.

To use any excess panel energy available during the cooler months, I've built electrical heating elements to connect directly to the 'dump load' circuit from the charge controller.  There are no proprietary heating elements available for the power and voltage I require, and even if there were then they'd likely be prohibitively expensive.

The first job was to source some suitable resistance wire.  Lots of types available on eBay but not too many which are insulated, so I opted for enamelled 0.7 mm diameter Isotan wire (aka Konstantan) available from a seller in Norway.

The reason for buying insulated wire was that it could be formed either in or around metal pipe or ducting.   In the end, I opted for inserting it in small-bore copper tubing, a coil of which I had lying around the workshop.  

However, this wasn't the only choice for the design - I'd originally envisaged simply wrapping the insulated wire around the outside of a 22 mm diameter copper pipe, but I didn't have any to hand and B&Q wanted £17 for a 2 metre length....

I unrolled the small-bore copper tubing coil and measured its length at 7.2 m.   A few basic calculations were carried out to establish the heating power available from the lengths of tube and wire I had.   

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Standalone Solar Installation....

We decided it would be good to have some electrical power in the greenhouse, primarily for growlights and at least one of our electric propagators during the winter months.

Taking power via a spur from the house mains is not so easy - there's nowhere to run a cable underground without cutting slots across at least one concrete pathway.  The best alternative solution would be overhead, from the house wall via a cable supported by a catenary wire.

However, the amount of power we're looking to draw is not huge, and so we've simply relocated three of the solar panels from our experimental array onto the greenhouse roof.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Is this how Financial Independence arrives - not with a bang but a whimper ?

My recent post about the company's finances made me think very seriously about the state of our personal finances, and what may be possible in '...retirement...' or at least for long periods without a regular earned income.

Using some of the 'float' we've established in the company, in the last few days I've set up a large monthly contribution from the company into my personal SIPP.   Making contributions to an employee's pension plan is also an allowable expense against corporation tax, so it's a tax-efficient way to withdraw money from the company.

Assuming the unlikely prospect of doing no further work at all in the period, these contributions would reduce the three years future 'earnings' we've banked to around two-and-a-half before the company runs out of reserves.  

Anyway, I've been beavering away at various spreadsheets for the last couple of days.  

Monday, 11 August 2014

Banking on working....

Many, many years ago, I was a fitter on a production line for a manufacturing company and I worked on 'piecework'.

For the unenlightened, basically this meant that I was paid for each measured portion of work that I completed.  Not being particularly greedy, I never booked all the 'achieved' hours each week that I had earned, and consequently 'banked' the remaining balance for future weeks.
The rates for each job were set on the basis of a skilled employee completing a specified task within a specified time, and to a specified level of quality.  

The quality was always verified by an Inspector, who had to countersign the yellow docket for satisfactory completion of the task before you could book it for payment.

Well, of course, some tasks were either easier or more difficult than others.  If it was the first time a task was ever measured, say for a job on a new product line or a product variation, and you happened to be the very first one to undertake it, then you effectively '...set the rate...' for all others to follow.  In these circumstances, it was essential not to complete the job too quickly and alienate your colleagues, or potentially screw yourself in the future !  Not exactly swinging the lead, because you were under observation, but certainly not putting yourself out in quite the same way as you'd do for a previously measured job.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hedge Progress - Second Summer .....

It's been a while since my last new post, what with work, holidays, more work and yet another holiday coming up, although I have updated a few of my other gardening posts....

No major projects in progress - I've still got a problem with my neck and shoulder so digging and heavy lifting etc is out of the question for the rest of this year.

But it's time for an update on the hedge bounding our new garden extension to the west, which we planted bareroot in early 2013 and then mulched with polyprop and stones at the beginning of this year.

It seems to be doing reasonably well, although progress is mixed depending upon location and I'm not sure why this is the case.  

The extreme southerly end is perpetually shaded by the large conifers, but the rest sees a lot of sun.  We gave them all a good dressing with Growmore in the spring and they've been well watered during any dry spells.

If viewed obliquely, it's all looking quite good although it's much higher in the middle.

central and southern sections....

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Our Previous House is Sold !

Yesterday we finally exchanged contracts on the sale of our previous home, after it being on-and-off the market for the last three years, so I suppose some sort of celebration is in order - or is it ?

The buyers first viewed the property on 22 February, so it will have been a fourteen-week long process from start to finish, i.e. at completion next Friday....

Even though the market has supposedly been rising recently, we eventually agreed to sell it for only 81% of what we paid at the top of the market in the summer of 2006 (you'll already have guessed that this house isn't in London if we're selling for a much lower price than eight years ago !).    We'd had previous offers, but they were generally very speculative and derisory and we weren't distressed sellers, we always had a positive equity-to-loan value even at the depths of the fall, and so were prepared to hold out until we could get what we thought was a reasonable price.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Solar Panel Performance - two years on

It's that time again...  

As of this evening, we now have exactly two full years' worth of data from our experimental 540 Wp solar array.  So, here are the graphs of the same parameters as previously reported - clicking on them shows larger images, and they can be compared with last year's figures here :-

Total AC energy production this year was 243 kWhr, i.e. just 2 more than last year !  At least the numbers are consistent.

Friday, 2 May 2014

The longest ten minutes of my life....

Been having a bit of a problem with my shoulder recently, that's been going on for a few months now.  Pain in the neck (literally) and also all down my right arm and regular pins-and-needles from shoulder to fingertips.

So after a steroid injection directly into the tendon proved worthless, the quack decided I should go a for a scan....

Now, I've been with the wife for many an ultrasound examination etc before, and it's all been very jolly, stress-free and painless (for me at least !), so I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for.

However, I was scheduled for a MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging).  Even the 1,000 word guidance leaflet they sent out with the appointment letter seemed ominous.

So I racked up at the hospital today.  Just as I was about to go in, they brought an old lady out of the scanner room in a wheelchair.    "Ninety years old and marvellous for her age", said the radiologist breezily - talk about putting the pressure on....  

Unusual visitor to the garden...

I spotted this butterfly in the garden early this morning.  I went inside to grab the camera thinking he'd probably fly away before I returned, but he was still there.

Maybe he'd just emerged and was still half-asleep, because he allowed me to get very close and to even snap off the leaf on which he was sitting, so I could get a better shot.

Click on the photos for larger images....

I've never seen a butterfly like this before in my life, and so I thought it must be quite rare.  However, according to authoritative references on the web, it's a male 'Orange Tip' and they're quite common & widespread throughout the UK....

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Teaching kids about finance.....

I see from the MSM that teaching kids about '...personal finance...' will become part of the UK National Curriculum from September this year.

No doubt a laudable objective, but has anyone seen how this will actually be done in practice, by whom, and what specific subjects are to be covered in the curriculum ?  God forbid that sharks from the major banks are allowed to be visiting lecturers....

I'm really looking forward to the day 10 or 15 years hence when someone sues the State because their teacher happened to mention to an eight-year old that he/she has an account, investment fund or holds shares in any particular company, which then goes tits-up soon after the first students from this new regime manage to get enough money together to invest in it.

Watch this space....

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Financial Planning - 2014 Review

Towards the end of the previous tax year, I set up several Excel worksheets and established a 10-year plan for our savings, investments and pensions.   A bit like the old Soviet Union, I know, although theirs was always a moving five-year plan !

Although we've been saving and investing for many years, it was decided to create a more formal plan to focus our efforts to match our goals, and establish annual targets against which to review the performance each year.  

Like a roadmap to a destination, if you don't where you want to go, or the route you're taking to get there, then it's difficult to know where you are at any point in time, or if and when you've actually arrived.   

Many blog commentators monitor their similar plans at the start of each new year but for several reasons I prefer the end of March, at which time I can also better predict our income tax liabilities for the following year.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

In-sourcing as a way of life...

In my formative years, firstly as an apprentice and then a junior engineer in a large engineering company in the late 1970s and early 80s, I did the usual things like regularly drinking to excess and wasting money on useless expensive toys, but in those days I wasn't earning too much and so looking back I can see my wages were heavily supplemented simply by doing things myself.

Many's the hour I would spend under the car bonnet (that is, the 'hood' to those across the pond), or stripping motorbike engines or doing DIY improvements to the first house I bought.   Also, Saturday mornings spent in the local scrapyard climbing on piles of old cars stacked four high, with tools between my teeth and also hanging out of every available pocket, just to get at that elusive water pump or starter motor I needed.  Funny how the models I was after always seemed to be at the top of the pile, but that's life... 

For younger readers, this is how second-hand car parts were to be had in the good old days, long before the breakers started stripping parts themselves and offering them off-the-shelf, at hugely inflated prices of course because they now have to factor in their own labour costs.

I think the now all-pervasive 'Health & Safety' culture must share some of the blame, although it's also fair to say that these old scrapyards were potentially dangerous places to be if you didn't have your wits about you. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The cost of minority trying to move to mainstream.....

When Countryfile was considered a 'minority' programme and tucked well away out of sight on BBC2 on Sunday evenings, it was actually quite worth watching.

But the mandarins at the BBC decided that this programme was attracting a sufficiently large audience to be transferred to what they erroneously perceive as being their primary channel, BBC1.

However, being overpaid and over-pensioned public television 'executives', they failed to spot the obvious in that those people who watch Countryfile are not necessarily the same as watch Eastenders, The Apprentice or Strictly Come Dancing, just a few examples of how the BBC abuses its legally-enforceable compulsory taxation status and therefore wastes shitloads of its too-easily obtained and ill-gotten gains on these and other equally crap populist programmes.  

I'm not totally knocking this type of stuff (well, I am !), if that's what you're into, but they could all easily find a home on commercial television channels, where success or failure would rest or fall on their ability to attract private subscriptions or advertising revenues.  However, there's no justification for a body funded solely by legalised theft to be seen as trying to compete with the professionals in that particular game.

In the process of moving Countryfile to BBC1, they sacked practically everyone of adult age who was remotely connected with the original, and popular, version of the programme, which apparently has subsequently been the subject of several lawsuits over alleged 'ageism'.  

I say sacked all, but they hung onto good old John Craven, best known for trying to present news programmes to seven-year olds in the 1970s and 80s.  That says it all.....

The current crop of presenters, all probably from the home counties* and regularly clad in designer gillets and woolly bobble-hats, presumably because they've never been outdoors in what the rest of the country perceives as being cold or even a little cool, are a complete disaster.

To add insult to injury, they screen Countryfile at 7.30 to 8.00 pm in the summer and autumn months, when anyone with an ounce of sense would know that a large portion of their likely target audience, i.e. those who actually work the land, are still outside during the light evenings, tending their livestock and harvesting produce etc.

It's time to end this state-sponsored TV licensing fiasco, and the sooner the better....

* I can detect a slight Geordie accent from one of them, but he's obviously from the richer parts of Newcastle or the surrounding towns and villages.  Still, one presumes he must have been outside in cold weather before...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Great 2014 Kew Gardens 50p Rush.....

Must be a very slow news day today....

A couple of the mainstream media sites are running a story about a limited-edition fifty-pence piece from 2009 commemorating Kew Gardens that might be worth a good few quid to collectors.

So, it was time for exploratory abdominal surgery on poor old Perky, and to take a good look around inside her - just in case...

Unfortunately, despite retrieving exactly seventy of the little blighters, not a Kew Gardens type in sight.  There's 58 of the usual Britannia, 6 more which I think might simply be Welsh, and only 6 commemorative types, two of which are the same.  Click on the photo for a larger image if you're even remotely interested.

Five of these commemoratives are only a few years old, but there's one there from 2000 with the legend '...Public Libraries...' if anyone wants to make me an offer....

And don't worry, Perky is fine !

Monday, 17 February 2014

A good big'un beats a good little'un ... Growing Big Vegetables in 2014

We've decided this year to try to grow larger varieties of a few vegetables :-
  • Onions - Kelsae
  • Leeks - Exhibition Pot Leeks
  • Tomatoes - Beefeater
  • Carrots - Sweet Candle
In mid January, we sowed 120 onion seeds and 60 leeks.  We started them off indoors in covered cells.  By indoors, I mean on the various south-facing window cills in the house, particularly the kitchen window which is 2.4 m (8') long.

To give us even more growing space within this large window, I've built a rough-and-ready free-standing shelf from white MDF furniture boards, and this now sits on the cill.   It's very much a temporary addition, for the winter months only, and it'll be dismantled and removed to the shed as soon as we can get the plants out into the greenhouse when it warms up a little outside.

six seed trays in the kitchen window...

Monday, 10 February 2014

Living on £10k pa in the UK ?

I spotted this posting on the Firestarter's blog, one of the many fine FI blogs I visit occasionally....


.... and so I thought I'd carry out a similar exercise myself.  Click on the Table for an enlarged view. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Long live the North-South divide.....

I stumbled across a TV show tonight, which was called '...Location, Location, Location...'.

I watched almost disbelievingly as the presenters tried to convince a pair of hapless buyers that a flat for £600,000 in a post-modern Stalinist block in Holloway, North London, was actually a good buy.... I'll spell it out - six hundred thousand pounds for a god-awful two-and-a half bedroom flat, FFS !

And believe me, I know all about Stalinist flats, having lived in several during my times working throughout Russia.

Here '...up north...', we own a three-bedroomed house on a 600 square-metre plot, with only three near neighbours, open southern and western farmland aspects and a protected woodland to the north, for which we paid around a quarter of that sum, including the recent garden extension purchase.

And lest you think we're severely disadvantaged and remote from any trappings of so-called civilisation, within a mile or so from us we have a 24-hour Tesco Extra, an ALDI, a Boots, several health centres and dental practices, plus an array of small & specialist high-street shops and banks.  Within five miles in another direction, we have another 24-hour Tesco Extra, a Sainsburys Superstore, a Morrisons Superstore, another ALDI, a Lidl and an M&S Food store, and a small town centre hosting many of the national high street favourites.

I'm a 20-minute taxi ride and then a two-and-half-hour train journey away from central London (or around four to five hours by car), for the very occasional visits I need to make to the Metropolis.  I'm half-an-hour from an airport from which I can reach, via empty roads and a short hop to Amsterdam Schiphol, just about any major city in the world.

And before anyone tries to justify the ridiculous London house prices by talking of the higher wages available, I know I'm not alone in the North in being able to charge my clients London rates for the services I provide, without all the cost disadvantages of having to live there.  I can also say that in the past I've turned down six-figure offers of full-time employment in London. 

I've got no beef at all against the very fine people of London, many of my friends live in the wealthier suburbs and I also worked there myself many moons ago, for several years via the weekly-commute routine.  

However, to paraphrase an old Victoria Wood comedy sketch, "...I'd like to apologise to those readers living in the South - it must be terrible for you..."

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Weed Control for our New Hedgerow....

Our new hedgerow has been in the ground for almost exactly one year now, but it seems that one particular area has grown noticeably better than the others.  This is where we created our  'cherry-tree island' by putting down a weed control membrane and then covering with plum-coloured shale.  The new growth on this three-or-four metre stretch outperformed the rest of the hedge last year by a wide margin.

We're assuming the better growth in this area was because these hedge plants didn't have to compete with weeds and grass for nutrients in the soil throughout the growing season, and so we've decided to put down a weed membrane along the whole length of the hedge.   Now is an ideal time with everything dormant in the garden.  We want more cover from the hedge this year to screen off the new garden - overall, last year's growth was quite disappointing despite the decent weather we had in the summer.