The Pig Yard

January 10 - Another very cold month with the highest day time temperatures of 7 degrees and night times usually several degrees below freezing. As much as it is difficult to talk about global warming after just one month we, at The Pig Yard are not convinced that the planet is warming. We had a very busy month as usual and for the first two weeks Jane was working most days filling in for absences or sickness at the surgery. She has also been struggling with her teeth and despite having a tooth refilled at the beginning of the month, the filling soon fell out and the prognosis is now for an extraction or possibly a screw in tooth - a decision has yet to be taken.

We managed to get down to Bristol to see Jane's sister Carol and her husband Frank. We delivered Christmas presents which mainly consisted of two sacks of logs for their new wood burning stove. Jane also visited her mother and we brought her up to stay with us for a weekend. Jane's mum does extremely well considering she's 88 and still living in her own home with only a few hours of social care (shopping, cleaning, etc.).

house in the snow

Whilst everyone was talking about the snowy December there was a view that winter was over but  nobody should be surprised by the British weather. Early in the month we awoke to another heavy snowfall (matching that seen in December) that disrupted transport all over the country. It didn't stop Jane in the Honda CRV from getting to work but she did leave a little earlier than normal to make sure she made it on time.

Of course it did stop Steve going out in the Porsche - its rear wheel drive and fat tyres don't cope well in the ice and snow however he enjoyed walking from the village across the fields and back along the canal helping stranded motorists along the way.

The snow and cold stayed long enough for us both to get out on a walk one weekend. We walked across the fields from the village to the outskirts of Northampton and then back along the A45 towards Kislingbury and then home. We were both well wrapped up (certainly Jane wasn't getting cold as can be seen from the picture) and provided we kept walking we managed to keep warm.

After walking for nearly 3 hours we were pleased to get home for a very warming cup of Earl Grey tea, our favourite, and a toasted crumpet before settling down in front of the warm wood burner.

Jane in the snow

Another load of logs

When the weather is very cold the house takes a lot of energy to keep it warm and our background heating is provided by propane gas (LPG) because the village doesn't have mains gas. LPG is quite expensive so we supplement the central heating with a wood burner in the living room. Unsurprisingly we get through more wood and therefore Steve spends more time cutting and splitting wood into logs. Thankfully we have sufficient supply to take us through this winter but we're always looking for more sources of wood. We keep in touch with local farmers who have been very good at keeping us informed of any trees that have fallen and need clearing up.

We're hoping to see more activity on this front in February because whatever we cut now will need to season for up to twelve months before it is dry enough to burn next winter.

Steve was very fortunate to get an invitation from our friend Paul to the London Boat Show at the Excel centre. Paul is an audit manager and attends because some of his customers are boat builders.

Steve's interest purely concerns different types of sailing dinghies and his pursuit of sailing as a possible hobby that will replace hot-air ballooning which we've agreed to give up after twenty years of flying. Sailing has the attraction of being dependant on a natural source of energy, the wind, and hopefully will have the potential for the thrills we experienced when ballooning without some of the aggravation we received when landing on an unfriendly landowner.

The boat show was large but according to Paul, not as large as previous events probably due to the recession. Despite this there were still a large number of gin palaces on show which were ostentatious demonstrations of complete and utter decadence. Steve was so irritated by such affluence that he refused even to look at them instead he took time out to review the dinghies that would suit our needs. Of course this is all based on the premise that we will both enjoy sailing and so he also explored the sailing courses available in the Mediterranean. If we're going to learn to sail it's going to be somewhere warm, somewhere where it is a pleasure to fall into the water. After gathering all the brochures and some discussion, we are coming to the conclusion that a shore based adventure sailing holiday in Greece is on the cards for this summer - more on this later in the year...

The picture is of a Topper Magno which can carry four but is ideal for two and is designed so that one doesn't spend the whole time kneeling down or sitting in water. Ideal for the ancient mariner. It also comes with a spinnaker which is a bit technical for beginners but useful as one develops one's sailing skills. One thing is certain, sailing is much cheaper than ballooning - a complete rig with trailer can be bought for under five thousand pounds and the insurance is about eighty pounds a year, which is one tenth what we were paying on the balloon.

Boat show visit

Finished ensuite bathroom At very long last we have completed revamping the en-suite bathroom thanks to our good friend Nick's efforts. Instead of a pine medicine cabinet screwed to the wall we have a white, glass fronted cupboard to hold towels, toilet rolls, medicines, shampoos etc. The great thing about it being glass fronted means there is an incentive to keep it tidy.

With our plans for the downstairs guest bathroom we have decided not to change anything else in this bathroom for the time being. It is generally cleaner and smarter than it was so we're happy with the outcome.

The new folding doors in the guest bedroom have been installed thanks to BJB builders. Bernie has done a really good job during the worst of the weather and getting it completed after only two full days. All that is left to be done is finishing off the stonework around the frame and Steve will need to protect it with mahogany wood stain when the weather improves. In the summer it will be possible to fold these doors right back and open the bedroom onto the garden.

Our plans for this bedroom are to make the bathroom next to it into an en-suite bathroom. This will require knocking through from the bedroom, closing off  part of a corridor and changing a cupboard around. We will take the opportunity of all the disruption to change all the bathroom fittings, remove the bath and fit a large power shower. We hope to have the work completed by mid April. This will make it all too grand for just guests so we plan to spend our summers sleeping in this bedroom and then moving upstairs in the winter. It maybe that we love this open aspect so much that we decide to move into it permanently. Only time will tell.

Guest bedroom doors

Ordering Smart Car

With the prospect of Jane's impending sixtieth birthday and her receipt of a pension lump sum we decided to take a look at buying a new Smart Car. Jane loves her current Smart and she's reluctant to change at all but it has done over fifty thousand miles and so it does need updating.

After making enquiries at the Mercedes garage in Northampton we decided they were just not interested in making a sale. The salesmen kept complaining that they couldn't make any money out of selling them and they weren't prepared to even try and get a diesel 2010 model for Jane to test drive. We visited the Smart garage in Milton Keynes and had a completely different experience. Jane had a short test drive in the new diesel which she liked, we did a little bit of horse trading but the margins were very, very slim and then we put down a deposit.

We hope the new arrival will be here in mid March. If anyone is interested in purchasing a well loved Smart Car that does about 60 mpg then please let us know before we place an advert in Autotrader in February.

One always needs to be wary of hype - never believe anything you read in the papers or what the critics say. Some critics implied that the story was childish, "a modern fairy tale" however this might include Grimm's Fairy Tales which are dark and meaningful. That said, we both enjoy a bit of science fiction and the Pixar 3D film "UP" which we saw in November was really good so we decided to see Avatar.

It was a story telling the power of greed and ambition over the balance of nature. It could also be an allegorical description of the approach the USA takes to world affairs - there's only one way to live and it's the American way.

We both enjoyed Avatar and consider it to be a great film. Of course the 3D effects help to immerse you into the story which makes the experience even more emotional. Some academics are now warning that the impact of 3D immersive films are "dangerous" and can make some people dissatisfied and depressed with the real world when the film is over. We feel certain such scaremongering was also written back in the 1950s when television started to displace the radio as the centre of home entertainment.

If you haven't seen it yet, do make the effort, it's worth it on so many levels.

Avatar - the movie

BBC2 - Nurse Jackie

Our other cultural high is watching Nurse Jackie, BBC2, Monday evenings. Another American import shows how excellent dark comedy can be consistently made. Unusually for a medical comedy the focus is on the nurses and the main parts are women which is very refreshing. Nurse Jackie is an angel, the kind of nurse you want on your side should you be unfortunate enough to end up in hospital. That's the up side, however she gets through her days by opening caplets of uppers and snorting the little pills up her nose. Although married with two children she also has a relationship with the pharmacist in the hospital who happens to be a useful source for her "mothers little helper".

Nurse Jackie is aided in her anarchic work by her good friend Dr Elenor O'Hara an English Doctor who has little respect for authority and has developed the art of forthrightness to an exceedingly comedic level. An illustration of this is she sits in a restaurant smoking (and remember this is in New York) because the waiters are too frightened of her to ask ask her to stop.

If you live in the UK it's worth trying to catch this during February.

Being Human is another programme that we try not to miss. Who comes up with such creative ideas - a vampire, werewolf and a ghost befriending each other and trying to make sense of their bizarre lives in a very "normal" city. The first series developed the characters and the problems each affliction poses. The second series has started to examine how they may overcome their problems.

The vampire starts a "blood taking anonymous" group where all the vampires avow that they will not partake in quenching their thirst for blood in a similar vein (excuse the pun) to AA sessions. The werewolf plans how he can keep himself locked up and tranquilized for the one night a month when he transforms. Whilst this is going on the ghost struggles to stop herself being dragged through the door that takes her away from her human body and to an unknown place.

In parallel with all of this a small team of scientists are trying to redeem their souls in ways that cannot be considered painless or altogether scientific.

Being Human BBC TV

Steve says:

Steve's Blog

So what's been on my mind this month? Several trivia news items have grabbed my attention and imagination. The first was the minor comment in the Times about the Tesco store in Cardiff that was banning people from wearing pyjamas and bare feet in the store - I've always been a believer in the fact that commonsense always wins out but I begin to doubt this when people, in sufficient numbers, are shopping in their jimjams and required to be legislated against. From this one story a number of others have come to light where mums are turning up on the school run in dressing gowns and slippers to drop off their little dears. What kind of example does this set? And how will the children interpret this in the future - a generation that cannot be bothered to get out of bed and growing fat through their indolence.

The second and more major announcement was the much hyped Apple iPad. At first glance this appears to be a brilliant advancement in tablet devices however it really is just a larger iPhone and although the iPhone is really good as a smart phone it isn't a netbook. A major down side is the iPad's inability to multitask. Only recently I was sending an email and wanted to look up a date in my diary so I had to close email and open the diary, check the date and then close the diary and go back into email. If I was running Windows Mobile I would have been able to switch between the two applications immediately. Perhaps the next version of the iPad will have multitasking however the fact that Apple have decided to develop their own chip for the operating system I think the device may never cope with multitasking. Let's wait and see what the Microsoft/HP Courier can do.

And finally - I continue to potter about the house, cleaning, tidying, cutting wood, popping into town for the odd shopping sortie. I'm becoming a regular Wednesday visitor to B&Q when I get a 10% discount as an over 60. I have yet to use my bus pass and with my hatred of buses in general I think someone is going to have to wrench my driving license away from me before I take to public transport. Generally, still happy in retirement.