Where’s my bonus?

After all, I’ve been acting like a banker for the last few days – juggling funds between accounts, based on Excel cash forecasts, to keep earning interest until the last moment whilst putting just enough in the current account to pay the outgoings.

The builders finished the snagging list on our loft conversion on Tuesday and thus technically finished the conversion works. The architect issued the completion statement and the penultimate invoice, and so we have to pay them a chunk of cash. The good news is that the costs will be less than their initial quotation. ‘How can this be?’ you ask. ‘Do not builders always overrun on time and budget?’ In this case, they did not. They finished on time, apart from the snagging list, and they finished under budget because they did not need to use all the 10% contingency included in their original quote. Very professional. I mentioned in a previous blog that we were pleased with what they had done. We still are. Well done, G A Wildish of Bodmin!

The other thing I have to pay, which has been on the radar for ages, is the tax on my redundancy payment. The timing could hardly have been better. I left Shell on 31st March 2010. My redundancy payment came through in April 2010, i.e. in the 2010/11 tax year, the tax for which does not have to be paid until 31st January 2012. So we have had the tax earning interest (taxable) for 21 months until now, when the day of reckoning looms. Our healthy looking savings account suddenly doesn’t look so healthy any more.

That was OK, though, all planned for. The next thing is solar panels. After a competitive tender, the guy from WREN lost out to another company, Cornwall Solar, who can fit the panels next week. So I will be staying in Cornwall for a couple of extra days to enable that, though Diana will have to return home as planned because of meetings. But also, I had to move more funds around to pay them, sooner than I had expected. The savings account is now looking very weedy indeed.

After that comes carpets. We’ve had the new loft room, stairs and landing measured and chosen the carpet we want, from the hard wearing artificial fibre range (cheaper than wool), and they will be fitting it towards the end of February. More cost, more spending. I suspect the mighty credit card will be brought into action.

But, with amazing prescience, two fixed term cash ISAs mature this month and next, providing much needed liquidity at just the right time. What foresight! What expertise! What impeccable planning! What undeniable luck!

Just like a real banker…

Four Hours

Been a busy week. Last Sunday, Jerry from Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) came to our Cornish house to size up the roof for solar panels. Although the feed in tariff has been reduced, subject to challenge in the courts, the prices that suppliers are charging have also reduced, because they and the solar panel manufacturers want to keep business going. The effect has been that a 1.5kW installation would have cost £7500 before, but a 3 kW installation is now £8500, so the economics are almost back where they were for customers.

On Monday the architect came to check the snagging list – all the little things the builders hadn’t done first time and had to put right. There were still a few things not done, and a couple of extra ones not spotted first time round. On Tuesday morning, Mat from another solar panel supplier came to size up the roof. While doing that, we went into the loft space  – the part not converted into a room – and saw that the specified new insulation had not been put in – another item for the snagging list. On Tuesday afternoon we drove back to Woking.

On Wednesday I wrote a story for Woking Writers Circle. On Thursday I took apart Eleanor’s desk to ready it for transporting to Oxford, and went to the writers circle meeting. On Friday I packed the car with Eleanor’s desk and other furniture and belongings. On Saturday we drove to Oxford and delivered all the furniture and belongings, Diana dropped in on Tris in Wadham College, we went to Eleanor’s old flat, picked up bags of recycling and deposited them at the recycling centre, had lunch, saw round Eleanor and Joe’s new house with curtains and furniture all in, then drove to Cornwall again, arriving in time to get fish and chips for supper.

It took us about four hours to get to Wadebridge from Oxford. It always takes four hours and it doesn’t seem to matter where we start. From Woking to Wadebridge is four hours. From Bromyard to Wadebridge is four hours. I reckon it would be four hours from Edinburgh! (At least, once the direct flight from there to Newquay starts in March.)

Mental Health Education

Last Thursday, a day when Diana and I should by rights have been taking Tris up to Oxford, we went instead to the Surrey History Centre for the launch of a Mental Health Education Pack, under the auspices of Woking MIND. And the reason we went was that, instead of going up to Oxford, Tris was one of the two presenters doing the launching.

She and a friend, Lexy Rose, spent the last year and a half initiating and working on the pack, the purpose of which is to provide a resource for teachers to address issues of mental health in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) classes for teenagers. Both are Oxford Experimental Psychologists, Tris still an undergraduate and Lexy a graduate; both do voluntary work at Woking MIND; and both care about young people who suffer from a mental health problem (about 1 in 10 young people, according to the statistics) and the stigma associated with it  –  a double jeopardy.

Their idea was to produce material to enable teachers with no prior knowledge of mental health problems to teach youngsters effectively, giving them an understanding and, more importantly, an empathy for their fellows who suffer from such problems. Over the eighteen or so months, they developed the material – lesson plans, student activity sheets, background information for teachers – and had it reviewed by experts, from Oxford academics to teachers to young sufferers.

Tris, Luke and Lexy

They also collected over a hundred personal accounts of what it feels like to suffer from depression, or psychosis, or other problem. With a little template design input from a Word master (your humble blogger coughs modestly) and a website developed especially by another friend of Tris, Luke Humphreys, they had a complete product. And since everyone freely donated their time and expertise, the pack is available for free.

But a great product is no use if nobody uses it, so the launch was to tell teachers and professionals in related areas (although intended for schools, the pack can be used in other environments – training nurses, for example) all about it. The date was picked (not by Tris, unfortunately, which is how it came to be on the day she ought to have been arriving in Oxford) and the location booked.

They wrote a press release and sent it out, and Lexy was interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey. Some thirty or forty people turned up, including proud parents of the two authors, and Woking’s MP, Jonathan Lord (Con). Although Diana knows him through her political activity as a County Councillor (LibDem), she didn’t go across and say hello. She was there as parent not County Counciller and didn’t want Tris and Lexy’s achievement to be clouded by association with opposing politics.

Tris and Lexy with Jonathan Lord, MP

The presentation, done by Tris and Lexy alternating, went well and engendered appreciation and support from those present, and of course the MP had to say some words. I mustn’t be nasty; they were very nice words. After the presentation and questions, we dived into plentiful and pleasant sandwiches and chatted with others present.

This is the website: http://www.mentalhealtheducation.org.uk

I encourage you to have a look at it. 1 in 10 young people suffer from mental health problems, but 1 in 4 adults do so at some point in their lives, so it has relevance for everyone. I especially encourage you to have a look if you are involved in teaching or education, because you might just find something useful. For free.

Gender Balance

I’ve just watched a piece on Newsnight (BBC) on the state of British manufacturing industry and how the economy needs to be rebalanced between services and manufacturing. What struck me was the composition of the panel discussing it. There were a presenter, an entrepreneur, an academic, an MP and a journalist. All five were women.

If all five had been men, I wouldn’t have gone to the blog with it, but the fact that they were all women is noteworthy. It happens so rarely. I even called Diana in to see it, since she generally complains at the lack of women on discussion panels, be they serious (Newsnight, Question Time) or not (Have I Got News For You, QI, Mock The Week).

They were not taking a “woman’s point of view” on manufacturing. They were not discussing “women’s manufacturing”. They were the people called in to discuss British manufacturing and doing it as well as anybody. In fact, I liked the lack of raised voices and the presence of rational argument.

Excellent!  Let’s have more of it, so we get to the stage where it’s no longer unusual enough to comment on.

Keep going, BBC. A few more like this and you’ll have started to make amends for the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist.

New Year’s Day

That was a December!

A few days after the SOGs lunch (see last posting) I drove to Herefordshire to see my mother and family at The Green and deliver Christmas presents, leaving Diana and Tris at home (Diana had Council meetings). After a few miles I realised I was wearing the wrong shoes – trainers rather than black leather. This was a problem not so much for the shoes themselves as for the orthotic insoles in them, which go in my other shoes as well (except trainers). So I did a turnabout, waiting for the next convenient roundabout rather than instantly blocking the A322 with an attempted U-ie, and greatly surprised Diana when I came back in through the door. As I put on the right shoes, she told me that my mother had phoned and the lane outside her house and the drive to the house were blocked by a tree that had just fallen down in high winds. It almost made the wasted half hour not a waste.

So, I approached The Green from the other end of the lane and parked in the farmyard. Mum was out so I collected the key from my sister-in-law Ann next door and unloaded the car. Ann said that the local council had in fact cleared the tree so the lane was now open. Remarkable alacrity from the council. I stayed a few days, put up the heavy curtains over the front door (effective draft proofing), helped with shopping and left the presents and a Christmas cake. Nice to see the family.

Then I headed to Cornwall for a site meeting at Treforest. Since the beginning of October, the upstairs at Treforest has been pulled apart and reconfigured to put in a loft room and proper stairs. The work was approaching its end and I wanted to be there when the decorators started work, to answer any questions and avoid things like the yellow paint of the hall being used in the bedroom.

It rained pretty much the whole time I was there. It was raining on Sunday afternoon as I arrived and called into Tesco to stock with milk and food and stuff. It slackened off a little on Monday morning when I walked around town and bought some Christmas presents and failed to buy others. It rained the rest of Monday, such that I didn’t even fancy going out for fish and chips. It rained on Tuesday and eased by the evening when I did go out for fish and chips. It rained on Wednesday morning and I packed the car between showers. It rained most of the way home.

The next day was the Woking Writers Circle Christmas Dinner. We have not gone for real Christmassy dinners the last few years (2009 and 2010 were Chinese) and 2011 was no exception. We went to the Greek Olive, a Green restaurant – pardon me, the Green Olive, a Greek restaurant in Chobham and had a pleasant mezze with lots of different tastes and some nice wine. Dermot had created a multiple choice quiz, which caused some controversy. One question asked which two animals were crossed to make a quagga, and I picked the right answer, according to Dermot. However, there was a vociferous school of thought which claimed the quagga as a species in its own right. Technically they were correct, but since the ‘umpire is always right’, I scored the point and won the quiz. No prizes, just smug satisfaction.

At the weekend Diana and I both went to Cornwall again, for the final week of works. The new doors were all fitted, though not all of them had handles yet – we had to be careful not to trap ourselves in the sitting room – some lengths of skirting board were missing (still being made to match by the carpenter) and decorating not yet finished, but generally it looked about done. We showed our neighbours, who have the almost mirror image house next door, what we had been up to.

On Tuesday we went to see Sherlock Holmes 2 at the Regal, Wadebridge’s two-screen cinema. Lots of action and disguises, but not much plot, and what plot there was pulled out of a hat.

On Wednesday we went round the house looking at everything with a critical eye, this time spotting all the little blemishes and writing them down, in preparation for the final site meeting on Thursday when we went round again with the architect and building manager. This resulted in the official ‘snagging list’ which the builders and their sub-contractors have to fix before the job is complete. We’ll be down again in January to see how it’s turned out and start planning the next step – carpets.

On Friday we packed ourselves up (except for my phone charger, as it happened), called in at Tesco to buy sandwiches for the journey (preferable to Little Chefs and motorway services, we’ve decided) and a turkey, and went home. On Saturday it was the final pre-Christmas shop in Waitrose (not too harrowing), putting up the tree (a synthetic one with fibre optic branches and glowing branch tips – dead easy!), final present wrapping and the discovery of the missing phone charger. Fortunately, I can borrow Diana’s cable, when she doesn’t need it.

Christmas was the three of us. So was Boxing Day. Grateful not to be driving anywhere.

On 27th, Ellie and Joe came for a few days, brought by Joe’s parents Chez and Richard, who stayed for a very pleasant lunch. After they had left, Ellie launched into bedroom clearance. She and Joe now own a house in Oxford, with space for books and stuff – and believe me she has plenty of both in her old bedroom. Or rather, she had plenty. Most of it is now in Oxford, quite a bit in our waste and recycling bins and some at the hospice shop. We drove them up on Thursday with the back loaded high enough to obscure but not obliterate the rear view. There will be another trip, though, with the back seats folded flat to give enough space for the (disassembled) desk, telescope and other large objects.

Last night was New Year’s Eve. Tris went out with friends. Diana and I stayed in, trying not to estimate the carbon footprint of the fireworks display around Westminster and the London Eye.

Happy 2012!