3 November 2013

Well, we survived the great storm of 2013, expected to be the worst storm to hit the British Isles in 25 years! It raced through on Sunday night/Monday morning with hurricane force winds and buckets of rain. The original map of the predicted track had it coming straight through our back garden but it seems that it crossed a little further south and, as a consequence, we had a lot of rain but thankfully no excessive winds. There have been a couple of fatalities in the south and quite a bit of structural damage so, on the whole, we got off lightly. Looks like the Netherlands and Belgium received the brunt of the storm instead of us.

Last weekend, as you know, we visited our friends Sue and Stuart on the south coast and had a wonderful time. We spent much of Saturday afternoon at the Seven Sisters Country Park just a bit down the road from where they live. In anticipation of the storm it was decidedly windy but otherwise very pleasant and mild for the time of year.

Seven Sisters Oct 2013

Why Dave Walton has his hood up is a mystery to just about everyone.

Interestingly, it’s these cliffs, referred to as the Seven Sisters, which are generally used in film and television to depict the “white” cliffs of Dover since they are relatively free of anachronistic modern development and are also allowed to erode naturally. As a result, the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head remain a bright white colour, whereas the White Cliffs of Dover are protected due to the importance of the port and are therefore increasingly covered in vegetation and are greening as a result.

Seven Sisters

The number “seven” refers to the cliff peaks, which are individually named: from the west (closest to us in the photo above) they are Haven Brow, Short Brow, Rough Brow, Brass Point, Flagstaff Point (continuing into Flagstaff Brow), Baily’s Hill, and Went Hill Brow. Beyond, on the top of the next hill, is Belle Tout lighthouse which you can just see in the photo. The dips between each Sister are also named: Short Bottom, Limekiln Bottom, Rough Bottom, Gap Bottom, Flagstaff Bottom, and Michel Dean. Who Michel Dean is/was is a mystery to me and the less said about “Rough Bottom” the better.

After a lovely, windy day on the beach we made our way into Brighton on Saturday evening for a production of Jeeves and Wooster at the Theatre Royal in Brighton. This was the play’s final tour date before its London West End debut and it was very, very funny.

jeeves_and_wooster

The play takes the form of Bertie Wooster recounting to the audience a predictably anarchic weeknd (and if you’ve read any Jeeves and Wooster you will know exactly what I mean). There are only three actors in the play and the actor playing Bertie (Stephen Mangan) stays in the Bertie character throughout; the other two take on multiple roles in the retelling of the story which, of course, leads to countless humourous incidents. At one point, Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) is dressed as Wooster’s aunt and demands that Bertie summon Jeeves at once. Of course, everyone knows that this is Jeeves playing the part of the Aunt for the retelling of the story. As soon as the Aunt has made the request it dawns on her that it will be impossible for Jeeves and her to appear on the stage at the same time. After a somewhat bemused and puzzled look at the audience, she announces, “Never mind! I will fetch him myself” at which point she storms off the set.

The review from the Sussex Express will do it more justice than I am able – it was a lot of fun.

It’s been awhile since we had a real rant so . . .

Energy companies and government under fire.

Several of the “Big 6” energy companies have recently announced price rises well in excess of inflation but also, it seems, well in excess of the increase in the wholesale price they pay for gas and/or electricity. Their profits have increased over the past year and the profit margin they make per household has doubled. Not surprisingly, they’ve caught a lot of flak.

An early Christmas present from the energy companies
An early Christmas present from the energy companies

Before all this blew up, I had an interesting discussion with our energy company soon after our return from the States. They had sent me a letter informing me that they were going to nearly double our monthly payment as we had “underpaid” over the past year. Indeed, over the past year we had accumulated a deficit of about £300 which would have necessitated an increase of £25 per month to pay off and, arguably, another £25 per month to avoid being in deficit again this year. Now I used to be pretty good at maths and I reckon that £25 plus £25 would amount to something in the region of £50 (give or take a few pence) but for some reason they wanted me to increase my payments by approximately three times that amount.

So, I telephoned the energy company and spoke with a very nice young lady. I explained that I did not need to increase my monthly payments. We had been away for the whole of August and therefore had used, essentially, no energy during that period and that we were about to replace our boiler with one which is 60% more efficient and therefore our consumption of energy would be lower in the coming year. In addition, I said, I was happy to pay off the £300 I owed them then and there! In fact, my monthly payments should be coming down, not going up.

The poor girl was a bit lost as this clearly wasn’t covered in her script. After several attempts to re-explain why I needed to increase my monthly payments and my repeating my explanation of why this was unnecessary, I eventually, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, resorted to, “What part of ‘NO’ do you not understand?” (Before you get too worked up, I did so in a very pleasant and polite tone of voice. I know that she was just a voice at the end of the phone and in no way responsible for their attempts to overcharge us).

She was a little bit taken aback but eventually agreed to stop the proposed increase. However, the system would not let her reset our payments to our current level; the best she could do was to institute a £5 per month increase.

During our discussion we did have a short debate about the merits from my perspective of running a deficit and the advantage to the company for me to be in credit the whole time. When I suggested that the company could probably absorb my deficit from the interest made on the millions of pounds they hold from customers who are bullied into overpaying, she assured me that any customer was perfectly entitled to ask for his/her credit balance to be refunded at any time. Interestingly, British Gas has been in the news this past week for adding £20 million to their profits this year by banking the credit balances of customers who had switched suppliers.

Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Two years ago shortly after my prostate surgery, Nick very kindly came by to stack our winter firewood. We don’t get through all that much as we generally only light the wood-burning stove on a dark and dreary evening.

On Thursday last week this winter’s logs were delivered and so it was time to do stack them again. I didn’t have the assistance of four lovely and helpful women as Sandy had, just the delightful Ms Playchute (not to mention a brief appearance by the dog in what I imagine was a “stuporvisory” capacity). It also didn’t take four hours but only about twenty minutes.

httpv://vimeo.com/78345947

We also didn’t quite get round to producing a picturesque log stack.

tree_log_stack

Maybe next time.

Love to you all,

Greg