I made damson jam, it's something I've not made for years. It's the first year we've had fruit from our damson tree. Sadly we were on holiday when the fruit was at it's prime so we lost some to birds and age. In the end we had about 1.5 kg of fruit that was okay, to which we added a further 1.5 kg of cooking apples we collected from a box in the village.
I gave everything a wash and picked out the past redemption fruit, and put the cleaned damsons and roughly chopped apples in the jam pan and added 400 ml of water. I then heated the mixture and gave it a good mashing until it was all broken up and soft. Previously I've tried making jelly but the yield is dreadful, so instead I forced the mush through a collander to hold back the stones, pips and coarse material.
Next I cleaned everything up and started on the jamimg process. I added 1.5 kg of sugar, 300 ml of water and the juice of a lemon into the jam pan and heated to boiling. I then poured in my 1.5 kg of apple and damson puree, and brought quickly to the boil. I let it have a full rolling boil for about three minutes (damsons and apples have a lot of pectin and if you boil for too long you just get rubber). I then potted it up and left it to cool.
From this batch I got 9.75 jars of jam, which isn't too bad at all. It's not as clear jelly, but it tastes plenty good and it's a lot easier to make than proper whole fruit jam. When I put it in the jars it was very runny and didn't lool jam at all, this morning when I inspected it had set well, I'll find out tonight if it's over cooked!
Since we moved into our current house we have continually aimed to reduce our gas and electricity use year on year. We started with a number of behaviour changes relative to the previous owners - which saved 50% on gas an electricity on the first year. Since then we have gradually replaced old/worn out/inefficient things with modern/highest efficiency replacements/alternatives and significantly improved the insulation in the loft space and under the ground floor.
|2009||5 000||22 000||233|
|2010||3 000||19 000||188|
|2011||2 675||13 945||137.4|
|2012||3 526||9 606||108.5|
|2013||2 391||9 402||97.5|
|2014||1 295||3 749||41.7|
The 2009 and 2010 years are estimated and 2010 contains both our and the previous owners usage. 2014 contains only 61% of the year, so isn't comparable yet. I could also do with a scaling factor for the weather as some winters are radically different from others and that makes a big difference to the winter gas figure.
Even though the 2009 figure is an esitmate it's still only about two thirds the EPC survey the house came with when we bought it of E/48 - 314 kWh·m-2, and we're already loads better the best estimate of D/55 - 275 kWh·m-2.
Personal portable tine pieces are strange things. My first watch was a small red wind-up Timex that I was given when I could read the time. The strap eventually frayed out but it was still in good order when I was given a Timex LCD digital watch when they became popular and cheap. That watch lasted all of 12 months before it died to be replaced by a Casio digital watch which lasted many years and many straps.
At University I had my grandfather's watch, a mechanical Swiss watch that was very accurate as long as I remembered to keep it wound up. I continued to wear it as my regular watch in my first job. The only problem with this watch was it wasn't shock or waterproof and it was no good when I forgot to wind it up! My better half got me a Casio hybrid analogue/digital watch which I used for many years as my out doors/DIY watch.
I was somewhat disappointed when the resin case failed and though the watch was okay it wasn't wearable anymore and I replaced it with two watches, another similar Casio and a titanium cased Lorus quartz analogue display watch. The Casio failed in exactly the same was as the previous ones, dead straps and the a case failure.
My most recent watch is a Seiko titanium cased quartz analogue display similar to the Lorus (they are the same company) but this one is slightly nicer and battery is solar re-charged so it should never need replacing. The strap is also made of titanium so unlike the continually failing resin straps it should also last quite a bit longer...
The irony of all these watches is that I sit in-front of a computer for a living, and often at home - all of which have network synchronised clocks on them that are far more reliable than any of my wrist-watches. When I'm not at a computer I usually have my mobile phone with me or another high precision time pieces is available...
Today I completed the last migration of a Debian GNU/Linux system from version 6.x (aka Squeeze) to version 7.x (aka Wheezy). One system was this server, which I migrated to a new hosting platform, today's migration was an Viglen MPC box that someone was using when the upgrade was initially due.
The upgrade was painless (as usual) and everything on the new box is working perfectly as expected.
My hosting provider Bytemark started to develop a new virtual server technology some time ago. It's marginally cheaper and marginally more powerful than my current solution. It has many scalability advantages as well but they are not as important to me as the fact I was due to upgrade my existing server and migrating to a new box has many advantages over an in situ upgrade.
I signed up to their free trial and was instantly impressed by both the technology and their customer support. I know there are other good companies so in no way do I want to criticise them, but Bytemark are very good people to work with.
I built my new Debian box, installed the packages I wanted and ported the bits over from the old server over a few evenings. It took only a few hours, and in the process I was able to improve some of the layout and such of the new box and try out newer packages.
This week I updated the DNS records updating the box names and other than forgetting to switch my email server from listening local to listening to the network everything went very well. All that happened was email was backed-up for a few hours before it all arrived.
I've now stripped the old box down to it's minimal running configuration, deleted all my files, and I'm now filling the filesystem up with random junk before deleting the junk and switching the box off so that it can be returned to Bytemark.
Over the years I've had quite a few computers, starting with a Commodore 64 which was an "out of box failure" and had to be replaced straight away.
The next computer I bought was a Dell that had zero defects on delivery, zero defects within it's 3 year warranty and zero defects after that - to the best of my knowledge it's still working if I were to take it out of storage and boot it up!
Next came a Dell laptop (re-manufactured) that had zero faults on delivery, zero faults within it's warranty period but since then the bezel has cracked and there are three dead pixels on the screen. Again like the desktop it's still working today many years after it finished active service.
Then we have a pair of Digital Networks UK desktops (one that I'm using today). Zero faults on delivery, both Iiyama displays failed with the three year warranty and the DVD-ROM on one died and its power-supply has been swapped long after the warranty expired.
Next I have another Digital Networks UK desktop (used as a server), it's had a power-supply fail under warranty, and after the warranty period: one hard disk; the power-supply and the case fan have had to be replaced. It's also been somewhat prone to overheating under full load most of it's life.
Finally I have a Novatech laptop, which had a dead batter shortly after the end of the it's one year warranty period. Which I should have realised by law that it should have been a two year warranty and as such should still have been a warranty swap... Otherwise the laptop has and is still fine.
At long last I've decided. I've ordered a shiny new DNUK Deskstar, desktop PC to replace my current DNUK Workstar system which has reached the end of it's useful life as a front line system. The new box is at least four times better in every respect: it has four cores compared with one; 8 GiB of RAM instead of 2 GiB; ten times the hard-disk capacity (which is also faster) and a solid state drive; hardware virtualisation and a drastically superior graphics card. It's also a Intel based system, all my previous DNUK boxes have had AMD processors. It will cost more money than the system it replaces, but a system of similar price (accepting inflation) would not have been sufficiently faster or balanced to make it worth buying.
I've also started the process of migrating this server off the current Bytemark virtual server onto their new BigV platform. The new system is faster, more scalable and slightly cheaper. It also allows me a pain-free upgrade to the latest version of Debian.
My desktop boxen are getting on. Over a year ago I started to think about replacing at least one of them: Twin Dilema. The boxen are even older now, really feeling the strain and I've still not done anything about it...
This autumn I ripped the hard-disk out of an old Sky+ box I had, and put that into my desktop PC. It is faster and larger than the original drive and as a result has bought some life back into my PC. However the writing is on the wall and it will need replacing this year.
Since I last thought about this, I have managed to get the gas boiler replaced and have the ancient windows done. That did cost a fortune, a lot more than the £1k of a decent desktop, but I will get some of that back in reduced energy bills. It looks like a ~ 10% reduction at the moment. If you assume a 10% annual energy inflation that adds up to a total saving over 30 years of around £16.5k which covers the cost of the boiler but not the windows and doors.
I like this time of year, I like the decorations, the music, the food, the specials on TV, gift giving and the time off work. I even like the short days and long nights - winter didn't seem right when I lived a lot closer to the equator...
What I don't like the enforced jollity, holier than thou religious babble that has nothing to do with this essentially pre-Christian festival and extreme commercialism. Bah humbug to all Christmas Jumper wearing, artificially cherry, sales & marketing people and the pious people complaining about them...
Yuletide greetings to everyone, whatever you believe.
When we bough the house three years ago we knew that the windows needed replacing. They were old Everest aluminium framed double glazed units. They had many problems: the metal frames conducted heat like mad and had deformed over the years, several of the units had blown and none of the glass was modern Low-E.
New windows are expensive however you look at it. I looked at quotes from Internorm and The Green Building Store for modern triple glazed units, using modern glass, spacers and cavity gas. For high performance "A" rated windows it's between £20 - 30 thousand, fully installed.
Even assuming high gas inflation of 10% (which is plausible) our house doesn't lose enough heat through the windows to break even until over 35 years and assuming 35% heat loss through the windows - which is more than it really is. Basically expensive windows will not pay for themselves on gas prices alone.
If you have the money required to buy the windows in the bank at the moment, and just sat on it, it would gradually devalue over time as bank interest is consistently less than inflation. If you factor in a 2% difference between interest and inflation against you, then overtime you lose a lot of money in a bank savings account. If you add this to the cost of domestic gas for heating then the break-even point is now at more realistic heat loss through the windows percentage and/or date.
It's still not a really strong economic argument for new triple glazed windows, but as the ones that came with the house when we bought it had failed, this summer we decided to buy UK made Green Building Store Ecoplus 3 windows. By making the windows simpler than the original ones we were able to save several thousand pounds on the quote and bring the price closer to 20k than 30k.
After our holidays they came and ripped the old windows out and put the new ones in. They look an awful lot nicer than the original ones and let in considerably more light. We're now in the process of making good the mess that was made getting the old windows out and the new ones in. This winter I think we will have gone from some of the worst windows and doors in the village to the best.
This morning we woke with a heavy heart - we are going home and back to work. We cycled through a sleepy town to the port and boarded our ship home. We didn't arrive that early for boarding but they must have been running slow as we were still able to board quickly before most of the cars and got a nice seat on the rear deck to watch the world go by. Other than a few annoying smokers who don't realise they stink, we had a pretty warm sunny morning sitting on deck until lunch time. We went to the cafe for provisions and then looked at the on-board shops before returning outside to sit in the sun.
Overall the crossing was pretty impressive as with previous years, lots of sun shine and no unpleasant events until we arrived in the UK and were were delayed unloading by over an hour. We cycled from the ferry terminal to the train station over the utterly atrocious roads and terrible cycle provision in Portsmouth and boarded our train home.
Because we were an hour later than planned, it was pitch black and we had a very uncomfortable cycle home in the dark. Thankfully my new Topeak lights work very well even though they are really only designed to be seen not to see with.
Today we had the full day in the city of Nantes. We walked down to the tram stop and then took the tram through the city to meet up with family. Our plan for the day was to visit Les Machines de I'ile. While the exhibition was open the elephant and various bits were closed to maintenance so we could only take the limited tour.
When the shipyards in Nantes closed, they set-up the most insane model shop you have ever seen to keep skilled engineering jobs in the city. They have built a massive walking elephant that can take 50 people on a guided tour of the island, a enormous aquatic themed triple decked merry-go-round and at the moment they are in the process of building a gigantic fifty metre diameter "Heron Tree".
The whole place is full of the most over the top and fanciful, science-fiction come steam-punk contraptions I've ever seen. It's hard to describe the place, but even though we couldn't see everything I was utterly blown away with the place and I want to go back to Nantes just to ride on the elephant!
After the tour we went into the very tasteful gift shop then had lunch at the very nice cafe that is attached. Once that had all settled we had a wander in the stunning afternoon sun, first round the island it's self then back to the city centre. We looked in at the Castle and went past the school (sixth form equivalent) that my better half went to and into the adjoining botanic gardens. The gardens were pretty enough but they were also full of the most fun and zany art/flower displays I've ever seen.
Tonight we are having dinner at one of the towns more famous restaurants - should make up for last night's terrible food, the only time I've had a bad meal in Brittany!
The city's beautiful botanic gardens are full of the most wild installations you've ever seen. On our last day we decide to go back to have a look at the ones we missed yesterday. Each one is accompanied with the most absurd description. They were created by Claude Ponti and have been there all year. When we saw the first one yesterday we didn't understand what was going on, but once we saw a few more we realised it was a joke - on a huge scale...!
Our train trip was pretty uneventful, though I still hate the stupid hanging bike things that SNCF insist on having installed on their trains.
On reaching Saint Malo in the early afternoon, we checked into our B&B Hotel and then went shopping. Carrying everything by bike means we got very little, as it has to fit on the bike - which is good for self-restraint!
This evening we'll go into old city to buy our last crepe...
We left our gite early in the morning and cycled back to town. We nipped into the church in the town to have a look, it was rebuilt after the war and though tiny has stunning windows in the most amazing colours.
We cycled along the canal for a short while until we arrived at Blain where we met our family for lunch. After lunch we went though town to find a shop to buy dinner (we're at another gite tonight) then we returned to the canal.
We left the gite at wonderfully home made sign that said "gite d'etapes 2 km ->". We followed it for about 50 metres and then it said "gite d'etapes 1.5 km ->". We then followed some increasingly rougher and uncomfortable tracks until we arrived at the farm where the gite d'etapes is. The farmer showed us round and we settled in. The place is very pretty even if the signs to get there are a bit random...
To our amazement while waiting for the water to boil for my cup of tea I noticed a box of Mille Bornes in the gite which as a coincidence as my better half had being saying during the ride that it was her favourite game from her childhood. I've been counting the kilometre stones off as we've been cycling along so it reminded her of the game. We had to play the game, even though she couldn't remember the rules and we the box didn't have any!
In the morning we left the farm via a different route and rejoined the canal. We met our family for lunch and then reached the end of the canal at lock 2 where is joins the River Erdre.
The river here is deep and wide and never had much of a tow path, most boats put sails on and sailed down the last few kilometres to Nantes. So we had to leave the canal and take a detour in land before we rejoined a river side path through the city of Nantes.
We cycled all the way to Lock Number 1, which holds the river level up in the city and beyond the lock you are into the tidal part of the river.
Once we really made it the end we went back through the centre of the city to our bike friendly B&B to crash out before going for dinner with our family. Nantes is a fantastic city, very vibrant and very bike friendly. Nantes is currently in the process of remodelling it's self from a car centric city to one that favours people on foot or bikes. It's a great place to get round on foot or bike and surprisingly quiet as traffic noise is minimised.
Today we took a day of cycling and had a day with the family. In the morning we went into town, looked round the market and did shopping things. Once that was done we went to to the village of La Gacilly where there is an annual outdoor photo exhibition. This year is their tenth anniversary so it was extra special, with loads of extra pictures and events.
The exhibition was pretty impressive - some of the pictures were absolutely stunning and more will appear on Picasaweb once I've processed them. The village is pretty enough to start with but with giant photos everywhere it is even better!
After looking round the village we went for lunch in a very busy restaurant - they were turning people away it was so busy. The food looked a bit fancy on the menu but was very good and we enjoyed it.
After lunch we went into the shop of Benjamin Rousset who makes decorative things from old cutlery. There was all sorts of things in his shop from clocks, lamp shades to candle stick holders and fashion jewellry. We got my better half a nice bracelet made form two old spoons!
After returning to our B&B we had a walk from it down to the river and picked some blackberries from the very resplendent brambles growing in the hedge in the lane to the B&B.
After another night in a real bed we had short stage today. We went into Redon for the morning market and lunch, then left our family as we cycled along the canal to Guenrouet where we were staying at another gite d'etapes.
The canal is quite different here, it's flowing across flat mash as opposed to cutting though granite hills. The problem here wasn't cutting the rock, rather containing the river level as it soaks out evenly into the marshes.
In the morning we left our rather fancy - but bike friendly - B&B and threaded our way through the mediaeval streets of Pontivy to rejoin the canal. We had a short stage today, having a long lunch at Rohan before arriving early in the afternoon at Josselin, home of another big Rohan family castle. As the Gite d'etape wasn't open we had to push out bikes about in the town, so we took advantage of the delay to nip up to the supermarket to buy more provisions.
Behind the church there is the Town Hall and when we went past they were setting something up. The church tower is free to visit and from the top you can get a stunning view of the town, that picture and others will soon be found on my Picasaweb pages.
While waiting for my better half to go up the church tower an elderly British lady walked past, and without any understanding, was most annoyed that the Town Hall had the French, German, Italian and some other flag on it and was disgusted that it didn't have British flag on it. Sadly she failed to identify the Breton Flag which is everywhere in Brittany and on just about everything in a tourist shop, mixed up the Hungarian flag with the Italian one and didn't notice that the town is twined with one in Germany and Hungary and that today was the anniversary of the twinning (it was even in shop windows) and that there was a reception in the square that evening...
Eventually the gite opened and we were able to unload and lock our bikes up inside, then return to the town without our bikes.
The town is dominated by Rohan Castle which is built on an outcrop with the river/canal at the foot. The bulk of the town is a picture-post-card of half-timbered houses of all shapes and sizes!
After walking round for a while we decided to gate crash the reception at the town hall and listen to the local Breton Pipe band and see if we could get some free nibbles... They were rightly very happy and celebrating a transcontinental bike ride various people had undertaken. It was a strange mix of town hall staff/civil servants and hard-core bikers... Tonight will be humble fare in the gite - assuming the cooker works (it didn't look impressive when we arrived...)
Our night in Josselin wasn't the best night we've had. The gite had an odd smell, there was some machinery behind it that made an noise all night and I was got at by a mosquito... We left Josselin and cycled on, meeting family at Malestroit for lunch - galette and crepe off course!
In the afternoon we carried on to Redon where we are to spend the night at a gite/B&B. So that means a real bed and we don't have t make our own breakfast! Redon was a bit confusing to navigate but the owner of the gite kindly suggested a better route so we avoided the complicated town centre and took the scenic route along the canal and then up the river Ille-et-Vilaine. Redon also has a laundrette which is kind of essential when you are travelling light, and only have just over half of the clothes you will need to complete your holiday!