Wadebridge Energy Futures

On Friday, around 4:30 pm, I walked down to the town hall, where the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) had an exhibition called “Wadebridge Energy Futures”. Friday was also the day of the WREN annual general meeting, so I figured that I could walk down just once, see the exhibition, and then hang around and maybe help out for the forty-five minutes before the AGM, rather than walk up and back again.

The exhibition traced the sources of energy and power used in Wadebridge from the start of the industrial revolution (water wheels) through coal-fired steam engines (1834) and its own coal gas works (1850) to its own diesel-fired electricity generation plant (1926), ending with the national grids for distributing electricity and gas and the closure of the railway.

And then it went on, because the exhibition was about energy futures and the aim of making Wadebridge self-sufficient in energy – not for the first time, but once again – and cutting reliance on the national grids and the Russian and Qatari gas and nuclear fission and coal and, who knows, our own fracking gas. (Who else out there watched Battlestar Galactica and can’t hear serious newsreaders talk of ‘fracking’ without a faint smile?)

And this time, Wadebridge won’t use coal and oil as the source of power, but rather wind and solar and geothermal… The clue is in the name: Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network. There’s no sense in being too subtle about this.

My offer of help was well received as we transformed the exhibition from being a horseshoe shape in the middle of the hall to two lines down the sides, with 140 chairs in the middle for the AGM and the open meeting to follow it. It helped that David whom I knew from the bowling club was there, a WREN director no less.

WREN is actually a limited company, so the AGM followed a prescribed and familiar form, with rather more free-form questions and discussion than limited companies normally allow. The Shell AGM, for example, tries hard to stick to the formalities, fending off the various protestors brandishing their one share, trying to promote their own agendas. It was interesting to see that the directors sat in the body of the hall, facing the members, rather than on the stage (which was set out with chairs for the later meeting). The chairman, Stephen, emphasised that the directors were there to do what the members wanted, a touch of humility that the banking sector, for example, would do well to emulate. But then, WREN exists to promote renewable energy, not to make a profit for its members and certainly not to enrich its (volunteer) directors.

At the end of the AGM, the WREN members were invited to help themselves to the refreshments. Having got there early, I’d already had a pint of Doom Bar (£2) and a couple of sandwiches, so I restricted myself to another sandwich and a cake. Other people came into the hall for the open meeting and slowly the guest speakers were assembled and ushered onto the stage.

First, after an introduction from Stephen, we had Peter Tutthill, president of the Wadebridge and District Museum (about to open in new premises) who enthused about the history of Wadebridge. He said he could go on for hours, but only had ten minutes. If I see he’s speaking again, it will be worth going to hear some of those hours. Steve Knightley is the newly elected LibDem county councillor for Wadebridge East and spoke about the unique attributes that Cornwall possesses, being close to the sea for wave and tide power, and wind power too, for that matter, and receiving more than the average amount of sunlight (2012 excluded). Sarah Prosser, chair of the Wadebridge Chamber of Commerce spoke of the fragility of relying on tourism for income and employment. A number of local businesses had been on the brink, saved by the sunshine we had this year. Wadebridge needs to brand itself as the low carbon town.

The next speaker was a primary schoolgirl, Maisy New, who thanked us for preserving the environment, keeping water fresh and clean, not letting the global temperature run away, and so on – the sting being that she was speaking as if from fifty years hence when we had actually done all these things. Let’s hope we can measure up to her expectations.

Professor Anne Carlisle, vice-chancellor of Falmouth University, was next, extolling Cornwall’s virtues (see Steve Knightley above). Cornwall has the potential to be the test bed for renewables. Julian German, the Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Economy and Culture, said that Cornwall Council is making loans to local energy groups. Renewable energy can be cheaper, and be a source of employment and revenue. Finally, Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, spoke about achieving change. You get it, he said, by hanging on to the thing you want so that “they” know you are not going away. WREN must not allow itself to be seen, or be characterised, as hippie, as “other”. It must be “normal”, be “us”, not “them”, must include everyone in Wadebridge. Otherwise, it will be marginalised.

Discussion opened up to the floor, with people making points and asking questions. One person in particular was concerned with the landscape (which he quoted Julian German as saying was Cornwall’s greatest asset), and the detrimental impact renewable energy could have – windmills blighting the skyline, solar panel arrays covering the green fields – which would put off tourists and devalue the asset. This provoked a sometimes heated response, along the lines of not wanting Cornwall’s economy to be reliant on skittish tourists coming from the smoke to gawp at the scenery, that the landscape was by no means “natural”, having been crafted by farming over centuries, and that there would be no landscape if global warming were allowed to run unchecked. My instinctive reaction, too, was: “Nimby”; I like windmills.

But, you cannot be merely dismissive. We need people like this to apply the brakes every so often. I used to get very frustrated, when at work, with people who objected to projects, which were of obvious value and merit, and who slowed things down when speed seemed of the essence. Almost invariably, it turned out, the time taken to address the concerns of such people, to rethink aspects of the project, paid off in better projects with better outcomes. I’m sure it’s true for renewables projects as well. The lovers of landscape can’t have a veto, but nor can they be disregarded.

I’ll leave the last word, the long view, with the local historian, Peter. In their day, the mines disfigured the landscape, the china clay pits even more so, but Cornwall has absorbed them all, and they are part now of what people come to see. The same will happen with renewables.


Last week was culture week in the Smith household. On Wednesday 11th, Diana and I went to see Simon Armitage read his poetry and talk to the audience at Wadebridge Library. We wrote it up for the poetry website, Write Out Loud, so I won’t repeat myself. Click on this link to see what it was all about.

Diana with Simon Armitage

Diana with Simon Armitage

On Thursday 12th, we were invited to a talk by Ges Wallace of Tate St Ives on the relationship between contemporary artist Linder and sculptor Barbara Hepworth – not an entirely random topic as the Tate is currently running an exhibition which it describes as: “The artist Linder brings together a group of her own collages with seven sculptures by Barbara Hepworth.” Ms Wallace enthused about Hepworth but seemed taken aback by how literally Linder’s work seemed to express her ideas. I’m always a bit dubious about art that uses collage and found objects. I remember seeing an exhibition by Sherrie Levine at the Guggenheim in New York three years ago, called After Rodchenko 1-12. The work was described as “appropriation”, seeing as how the twelve pieces were all originally by Rodchenko. At least Levine acknowledged the origin. Linder’s collages used images cut from magazines with no (apparent) attribution to the image creator.

We also saw a video of a new ballet, The Ultimate Form. “Choreographed by Linder and Kenneth Tindall of Northern Ballet, and performed by Northern Ballet, it is based on Hepworth’s monumental sculptural work The Family of Man 1970 and features costumes created by cult fashion designer Pam Hogg and a new score by Stuart McCollum,” as the Tate describes it. It was “slow dance”, but impressive. We had the time to see the skill and power of the dancers – much better than the frenetic jiggling of the professionals’ pieces on Strictly. The costumes were a bit reminiscent of Seventies film sci-fi, though.

This was all provided gratis by Mercedes-Benz South West, who laid on drinks and refreshments as well, with a couple of chefs cooking up a rather good stir-fry and rice on the spot. I think they think we’re good customers…

On Saturday, I played bowls for Wadebridge in a friendly against Lostwithiel. Yes, at the end of my first season I was picked for a team. A list went up a few weeks ago in the clubhouse, I put my name down and was picked. Lostwithiel Bowls Club is outside the town, on the way to Restormel Castle, and has great views down into a valley and up to the hills. It rained on Friday and Sunday, but Saturday was great. My rink (number four of five) won by one shot on the last end, but my lift went (and I with it) before we found out the final score for the match. Next Saturday is the final day of the season, and features an internal match between the President and the Captain. I’m in the President’s team.

Is bowls “culture”? It has its own culture, shall we say, not least the use of handwritten lists on clubhouse notice boards, rather than anything new-fangled electronic, such as email.

Sunday represented the cultural highlight of the week. Diana, Tris (returned from a jaunt to Oxford) and I went down the Regal Cinema in Wadebridge for the evening showing of… Kick Ass 2.

There Will Be Blood

Last Friday, 6th September, was the Orieladelphians Dinner, the 39th of its kind, organised by Ranulph. It was the first of its kind for which I had to travel from Cornwall rather than Surrey. Clearly I was going to go by train. Years of experience have taught me that driving the morning after an Orieladelphians Dinner is not a good thing. It’s not even legal. No, there’s no special Orieladelphian driving laws been passed; it’s just the application of good old drink-driving ones. In addition, taking the train is cheaper and quicker than driving myself to Oxford, especially with a senior railcard.

I realised I didn’t have a senior railcard. I applied for it online and it arrived the next day. Remarkable. The next decision was how to get to Bodmin Parkway station. I could catch the hourly 555 bus from right outside our house, but it is carefully timed to arrive at Bodmin Parkway 50 minutes before the train departs, or ten minutes after, if you care to think about it that way. Diana had an appointment so couldn’t drive me there. I eventually worked out I could drive myself in the other car, pay for two days parking (the princely sum of £2.60) and have the car available to drive myself home – the extra hours on the train being sufficient, I reckoned, to up the levels of blood in my alcohol stream to a legal level.

I bought my tickets online and collected them from the ticket machine at Bodmin Parkway when taking daughter’s friend to the station a few days later. On Friday morning, I set out in the little car, allowing time for getting caught behind tractors (Cornwall is a proper agricultural county and this time of year you have to expect tractors). I parked and used my phone to pay for two days parking. It was too far from the end of the car park to walk to the ticket machine, buy the ticket, walk back to the car to display it and walk again to the station platform with my luggage.

Chatting to a uniformed gent from the Bodmin and Wenford (steam) railway who had set up shop on the platform I learned that my reserved seat, being in Coach D, would have its own TV screen. Possibly in consequence, Coach D was very full, with most seats reserved, and I had to cast out someone from my seat. She tried to tell me it wasn’t reserved, and indeed there was no reservation ticket on the seat, but I had my receipt and she had to go. I found the reservation ticket torn in two on the floor a few minutes later.

The most interesting thing on the TV was the journey map, that told where you were in real time. The system was obviously lifted wholesale from one used on airlines, because it also showed the speed and altitude. Altitude? On a train? I want my trains to remain on the ground, thank you very much.

The seat next to mine was reserved from Plymouth. A guy duly got on at Plymouth, put his bags on the rack and sat down. Just before Exeter, he got up to “get a cup of tea” and I didn’t see him again. I assume he changed his mind about the tea and went for a meal in the dining car all the way to Paddington instead. It was pleasant to have no one next to me, but I did have to keep fending off people who wanted to sit there.

After tracking alongside the M5 for a good few miles, going easily past the cars speeding in the outside lanes, the railway ran inland and alongside the Kennet and Avon canal, where we would no doubt have easily passed the narrow boats, had there been any. I changed at Reading and arrived in Oxford in the mid-afternoon.

The dinner itself was 7 for 7.30 pm. I decided that this year, after flouting tradition with a white tuxedo and yellow bow tie and cummerbund the previous two years, I would be the epitome of sober respectability in unremarkable black dinner suit and black tie. This was remarked upon. “Don’t you normally wear a horrible mustard tie?” they said. “Not this year,” I said. “I am the epitome of sober respectability this year.” (These might not have been the actual words used.)

At pre-dinner drinks, only two of our usual guests arrived, Gill the former Steward who let us back into the college in the early years, and Syd the former SCR Butler. Neil thought that Ernest, the former Provost, had been ill. There were nine Orieladelphians present, the nine survivors, since Edward’s death earlier in the year:  Ranulph (president, at the head of the table), Paul, Neil, Thomas, Christopher, Steve (next president), Peter, Ashley and me. Five extra places were laid. We always have the extra places laid but we don’t always have them laid with bread rolls.

IMG_0602The dinner was good. I remember especially the broad beans, about eight of them arranged in a straight line between the meat (loin of lamb) and the other vegetables (confit potatoes and crushed minted peas). My late father, a broad bean afficionado, would have been greatly disappointed by the quantity. The wine was excellent. I remember especially the Montbazillac pudding wine. At least, I do when jogged by the printed menu, a copy of  which I liberated, as usual.

After dinner, we adjourned to the small SCR and I found myself in a seat altogether too close to the occasional table with the brandy bottle on it. At some point I left to go to bed. I have no idea what time it was. I have no real recollection of leaving the SCR, but I did get to my room and I did go to bed. Perhaps fortunately, I had a ground floor room.

During the night, I woke up needing a pee. There was a nice convenient en-suite shower room and loo. I drank a couple of cups of water, this being a good thing, I thought, to deal with alcohol in excess. I found myself sitting on the floor of the shower room, not at all sure how I’d got there – certainly there was no conscious decision on my part to sit down. I returned to bed.

My alarm went off at 8:15, which gave me enough time to get in to breakfast. My head ached a bit, but not in a hangovery sort of way. I put my hand to it and found encrusted blood. I looked at my pillow and found small blood stains. I tried to wash out the encrusted blood and it came away, to be replaced with fresh blood. I wasn’t bleeding badly, though. Clearly, I deduced, I had done more than merely sit down on the shower room floor, but what, exactly? I dressed and went to breakfast.

The lady behind the counter insisted on giving me two of everything – fried eggs, sausages, rashers of bacon – but I couldn’t eat it all. This was a hangover symptom, but I didn’t feel particularly bad in any other way. My stomach wasn’t queasy, I didn’t have a pounding head, I just didn’t feel like eating much. Rosie noticed. “What have you done to your head?” she said. “I think I must have fallen over,” I said. Ashley thought that this was quite likely. “You did leave the room sideways last night,” was his considered medical opinion.

After breakfast I went back to my room to pack. Sitting on the loo, I saw a red smear on the tiles about a foot up from the floor. So that’s where I went down, I concluded. It was in a nice clear area, under the shower. No protruding radiators or towel rails, just a smooth tiled wall. This was in several ways fortunate. I cleaned the blood off and checked out.

I met Ellie for coffee at Oxford station. She had the coffee, I didn’t bother. I did buy a tuna sandwich, in case of feeling hungry at lunchtime, and as I bent down to put it in my bag, she noticed the blood, which I had to explain, somewhat shamefacedly. Back home, Diana was suitably sympathetic (i.e. just enough, without going overboard, given the self-inflicted nature of the injury) and Tris was outraged by the thought of her father behaving more outrageously than herself. It wasn’t until Saturday night that I noticed the tender spot on the back of my head and Sunday morning the bruises on my elbows, fleshing out the picture, as you might say.

So much for sober respectability. Next Orieladelphians, I’m wearing a clown suit.


We have a new pet. It’s not a replacement pet, we’ve never had a pet before, unless you count the pet rocks when the children were little. It’s a totally new pet.

What, you might ask, are we doing with a pet after so many years where our pet hate was just that? Especially a pet that was quite expensive to buy. The answer lies in its characteristics. Its demands are minimal, though occasionally it asks to be picked up, and it feeds itself, in the right circumstances. It doesn’t shed hairs all over the place, quite the contrary, though it does require grooming every so often to remove tangles. It’s fearful of stairs, so you’ll never find it unexpectedly in the bedroom. It bimbles unpredictably around the room, sometimes bumping into things, but always very gently. It makes little burbles of delight when it achieves something. It’s downright entertaining to watch.

“What is it, then,” you might pose as a follow up question, “this paragon of pets? It doesn’t sound like any cat or dog I’ve ever heard of, nor tortoise or guinea pig, or fish.”

And you’d be right. It’s not like any of those things, seeing as how they are essentially organic. This is an inorganic pet – a robot. I’ll come clean, which is just what the pet is supposed to do. It’s an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner.

When you set Roombie (as I imaginatively call it) going, it’s very hard to avoid the impression that it is alive as it wanders underneath the sideboard, bumps into the walls and trundles across the carpet. It finds its way into small spaces but then has to bump around until it finds its way out again, with all the strategic awareness of a bee battering against a window pane. The most efficient way to use it is to clear the floor of small things and leave only the sofas and armchairs and other large furniture. The most entertaining is to leave everything where it is, in fact to construct a sort of maze, and see how it gets on.

I expect the novelty will wear off, but even then we’ll have cleaner floors.