I am sure many in the western world at least will remember the cartoon dog character called ‘Droopy‘, a bloodhound. His deliberately slow demeanour but determination meant he always had the last word, always got what he wanted and as the sheriff always got his man. He may have been slow in his demeanour but often he moved at unlikely and impossible speed courtesy of the cartoonists. Really being droopy means that something is wrong. We all know the feeling when the weather is hot, humid and as a result overbearing. We wilt like flowers without water our energy sapped from our bodies and all we want to do is well, nothing, except perhaps to sit inside a fridge for relief. The weather hereabouts has been such that all I wanted to do was to cool off and keep out of the sun. It never happened though for much of the time I had been doing some garden maintenance, partly out of necessity and partly for something to do. If I did sit out I kept myself as far as possible in the more shady spots. I do sit in the full sunshine occasionally but not for long, say ten minutes or so is enough unless I have put sunscreen lotion on my more tender places. They are my shoulders, arms and breast, everything else I usually keep covered anyway. When once I would wear nothing but a swimming costume now has become a distant memory. I have the choice to fry in the sun or to remain comfortable and keep out of it. Plants however don’t have that luxury and even plants used to the climate in which they originated can still have problems with the weather. A lack of water results first in the leaves wilting then after prolonged dryness the leaves fall off one by one. The plant doesn’t die but it does die-back. During the dry spell we have been enjoying I have needed to water the garden plants very frequently, every day in fact. Well we had rain on Friday so it gave me a break from doing it but by Sunday afternoon after missing one whole day of watering a couple of the plants had begun to wilt. They quickly recovered after I had watered them but it just shows how dry the soil can get at this time of year. Parts of the garden stay moist longer of course but in one or two places in our garden the soil can get dry very quickly as they don’t always catch the rain if the wind isn’t from a favourable direction. I know just how the plants feel when they wilt, I do it all the time once the temperature rises above say eighteen degrees!
For no particular reason I opened the window in the wet room and looked out into the patch of land we call our vegetable patch, though at this moment it looks nothing like one. The old toilet pan and cistern still stand on the paving slabs we laid behind the garage last year and some of the waste material we dumped there whilst stripping out the bathroom supposedly as a temporary measure still litters part of the ground. There are also the branches and twigs we left there with a view to burning them when we pruned them. They are from our neighbour’s tree which overhangs the separating wall between us. Once the weather improves all that will disappear of course but in the meantime it serves as a reminder that we have an eyesore to look at in that part of the garden! I chanced to look to the left of the window down on to the footpath below which leads to the pedestrian access to the garage and it seemed to me that the electric light there was on, at least I wasn’t sure whether it was on or off, it is hard to tell in the daylight. I knew in my heart it couldn’t have been left on overnight as we would have been able to see it through the kitchen or wet room windows at night but I had to go and check it out to be sure. Off I went downstairs and through the cellar to the garden and I walked around the back of the house to see. It was off just as I supposed it would be. If you are like me you sometimes have to verify what you already know to be true just to put your mind at ease. Well that little excursion lead me to meander around the garden and have a general look at things. One of the first things I noticed was condensation inside the cover of one of the electrical bulkhead light fittings. I often wonder how water gets inside an apparently water-tight fitting! I attended to that a few minutes later. Continuing around the footpath I came to the far side of the patio to look and admire the snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and shrubs bringing some much-needed colour to the damp and dismal scenery. If it wasn’t for the evergreen shrubs and the lush green colour of the grass the rest of the garden would look rather dismal indeed. Spring is in the air. I walked around to the greenhouses and found water had found its way into the larger which will need sorting out later, probably laying a little fine concrete around the base where the water is getting in will cure that problem. After digging out a couple of extra-large dandelion weeds with my bare hands and disposing of them I returned indoors with plenty of jobs to think about doing outside over the next few weeks, if I can pull myself away from my other projects of course but it was Sunday and I thought no more about it for the time being.
This evidently is my 2000th post according to Word Press. When I started to post on 14 January 2009 I never imagined I would stick to writing at all but here I am still plodding along.
I went to do a small electrical job on Monday morning and whilst there the guy showed me some other work he wanted me to do. Now at one time I would have taken on the work as long as I had the time but I still get annoyed when people get me to their house to do a specific job then begin to pile on the extra work expecting me to do it there and then. I politely told him that I would do it at some other time and left it at that. If he really wants the job doing he will call me again. I try my best to limit what I do in my electrical work for a couple of reasons, my age, my other commitments and I simply don’t need a great volume of work.
E and I are currently involved with renovating and refurbishing the bathroom upstairs in our house but we are only at the preparation stage at the moment. In the afternoon we set about dismantling the woodwork in part of the floor that had been constructed by someone else. The original floor level was seven inches (about 155 mm) below the present level and was seemingly raised for easier access because previously one had to step down into the room. It had been done professionally but for some reason part of the floor had been reconstructed more recently perhaps after water damage just prior to us buying the house but as you can see from the video I posted two days ago it was a botched-up job. We have measured up for new joists and floorboards and in the next few days we will purchase them. In the meantime we stripped out some old skirting board, cut off an old lead gas pipe and a section of lead and copper pipe that used to supply an upstairs kitchen sink with hot water. We stripped out that kitchen together with the many other sink units that were dotted about the upstairs rooms when we first moved in some 25 years ago. We removed a few more floorboards so we could see the layout of the existing pipework under the floor. Whilst taking some of the stripped-out timber downstairs to where we are storing it in the cellar I noticed some of the wood was damp. Fearing the worse I thought the wet room floor was leaking for it is directly above this room. I set the shower to cold water flow and switched it on whilst E watched for leaks. Sure enough there was a slight leak around the hole in the wooden floor around the drain assembly! I took the removable part of the grid out so I could to assess the problem. The drain was full of water as you might expect as it effectively a water trap but that water level is well below where the leak was found so it had to be the grid. Now the outer square of that grid is well sealed to the floor tiles so the leak had to be around the removable circular centre. I spent a few minutes applying some grout on the underside and around the top and hopefully that will cure the problem. So the shower is out of use for 48 hours from the time of writing this on Monday evening. When we first used the shower a few days ago we saw no leaks at all.
Someone telephoned me on my mobile phone asking me why my house phone wasn’t working. I tried to call home from my mobile phone and true enough it wasn’t working. E did the same but she took the phone out of the room and dialed 1471 (which is the number we use to find out the identity of the last caller here in the UK). The phone sprang back to life! Meanwhile my mobile phone started playing up. It does this occasionally for no apparent reason but I think it is because it is essentially a computer and the software is the problem. Anyway, switching it off completely then re-booting it solves the problem. If it isn’t one thing it’s another!
Monday morning saw me with nothing to do other than continue working at home, even though the weather is so hot. I’d had a long soak in the bath on Sunday evening to help me to relax, not that I needed to relax, I knew I would fall straight into a deep sleep anyway because I was feeling very tired. Lying there quietly I could hear the water tank refilling as they do of course when running off a lot of water. It seemed to be taking longer than usual to stop but the thought soon passed from my thoughts. I could still hear what seemed like water flowing through the pipes when I had finished bathing but couldn’t pinpoint the source and in any case it was late, 11.45 and I was tired. I arose around 6 o’clock and had my breakfast so I could start making preparations for continuing the work in the garden. When I approached the rear of the garage I could hear water splashing and discovered the overflow pipe from the storage tank supplying the bathroom was gushing out water and it looked as if it had been doing so right through the night. This must have been the sound I heard the night before. A change of plan then, out with some tools and a ladder to investigate the problem. It was of course the sealing disc in the supply pipe valve. I managed to turn off the water supply to the tank to stop the overflow but as I was doing that I received a call from a lady I’ve done work for before on numerous occasions who wanted me to do two small jobs for her. The flow seemed to have stopped from the overflow for the time being but I knew that wouldn’t last and I’d have to strip out the valve disc and replace it at some point. The access to this tank is through a very small opening measuring something like 300 x 450 mm and was constructed by the previous owner of the house when the bathroom was at that time undergoing a make-over (it needs another one) and I found it extremely difficult gaining access but managed. The ceiling ‘trap’ (access hole) is alongside the wall and the water pipes make it even more difficult as they restrict movement. I closed the trap and went off to tackle the lady’s jobs stopping on the way to collect my medications from the chemist (drug store) which I should have collected on Friday but simply forgot. The jobs took longer than expected and I didn’t return home until after 12.30. I took the lady to buy an electric wall heater to replace another she had so that she could decide on the model she liked but on the way back to her house we stopped at my house so she could see something of it as she had been asking me about it. As it wasn’t far off route I obliged and showed her around the rear garden and the work we’d been doing there. She was very impressed and complimented us on what we’d achieved. We stayed but a short time and then returned to her house to do the remaining work. Her house belongs to her daughter but she lives with her and as her daughter was at work she organised everything for her. That meant I would have to wait until the evening to receive payment when her daughter would drop by our house with the money. It was around 2.30 in the afternoon when I suggested to E that we should do something in the garden making use of the fine weather and she was eager to do so. We managed to move a mound of soil and level the ground a little ready to lay some paving slabs there later and I moved the four remaining slabs from where I’d stored them up onto the plot of ground before we could lay that last slab which now completes the set of steps we’d been constructing. Out came the cement mixer and we mixed some mortar and laid down the final step. The remaining three slabs will be laid on a membrane directly over the compacted soil. The ground is contained within brick walls and is therefore naturally compacted. It isn’t necessary to lay a foundation for these slabs as long as we make sure the ground is fully compacted and is level. By now it was after 4 o’clock and E pointed out that the overflow pipe was again pushing out water. I thought it might somehow! Tools and ladder out again and upstairs to do the job. Fortunately I carry plumbing materials in my van with the electrical materials so I didn’t have to purchase anything. This time I made the effort to climb completely into the ceiling space which was quite difficult but had to be done in order to gain proper access to the valve. Soon I had the valve stripped down and the replacement washer/valve seating disc was fitted and then we returned to the garden to tidy up but before I went downstairs I got washed and I changed my clothes which by now were covered in dust. I hadn’t bothered with overalls this time as the clothes were already somewhat soiled from my earlier work. It was now just after 6 o’clock and we received a visit from the lady and her daughter with the payment for my work. The lady is 80 years old, though you wouldn’t know it and her daughter a little over 50. I invited them into the garden so the daughter could see it too. I was handed a sealed envelope containing a card and cash but I didn’t open it until later when back indoors for our evening meal. I had been given twenty pounds more than I’d asked! What a nice gesture and especially so after the day’s problems. The daughter has always been generous when paying me for the work I do because as she says ‘You are prompt and efficient’………..She forgot to add ‘and wacked too’! And then I wrote this.
I am sure most of my UK readers will have seen an advert for a well-known charity concerning the need for clean water in many African nations and no doubt readers from around the world will have seen similar requests for support on their television networks. There are many charities seeking support in this way and although the adverts are probably subsidised they must still cost something to run. I subscribe to certain charities but not to all of them of course, not because I don’t wish to but for obvious financial reasons. In the UK we enjoy the convenience of pure clean water or do we? Looking at the advert and the way some children have to drink dirty water and often water that is infested by harmful bacteria I realise just how fortunate we are to be able to simply turn on a tap (faucet) and not be worried about such things. Apart from the additives that have been put into our drinking water it is pretty much as pure as it can be but the water, depending on which part of the country we live in, is not as innocent as we might assume. Yes, there will be no harmful bacteria or bits of debris floating about in it because it has been filtered and treated with chlorine. Incidentally, although sometimes we can smell minute amounts of chlorine when we run the tap it soon dissipates if left to stand for a few seconds after which you would never know it was ever there. It isn’t the chlorine which is the problem nor the fluoride added for dental reasons, though some say fluoride can be harmful and shouldn’t be in the water supply but I digress. It is the acidity of the water which is more the problem. Now I’m no chemist and didn’t take that subject at school but I know that water, H2O (actually H4O2 I believe, as it isn’t stable as a single molecule), is considered neutral and mid-way between acids and alkalis, neither one nor the other as far as being corrosive is concerned. We get ‘hard’ water which contains lime and this coats the insides of pipes and water tanks over time. A nuisance for kettle elements or any other kind of submersed electrical element. They say hard water is of more benefit to the drinker than is soft water which contains little or no lime. Washing with hard water is another problem as much more soap is needed. It must be about fifteen years ago that I put a new immersion heater element inside the hot water storage cylinder but it has hardly ever been used because the cylinder is also heated indirectly by the gas boiler, having a copper coil inside through which circulates hot water from the boiler. I remember fitting the element because I actually replaced the whole hot water cylinder as it had sprung a leak and damaged the kitchen ceiling below! Did I mention that I do a bit of plumbing too? LOL. The problem with having the gas boiler heat the tank or cylinder (which is a more accurate description) is that they are fairly distant from one another, the cylinder is up on the first floor in the bathroom and the boiler is below the ground floor in the cellar and not directly beneath the bathroom! The circulating pipes between the two, although lagged, still must lose some heat and of course when the system is off overnight any hot water lying in the pipes is wasted. Over the years this must have amounted to a lot of money being thrown down the drain as the saying goes. Of course the number of people living in our house at that time warranted having a constant flow of hot water during the daytime hours which only the boiler could keep up with. Since there are only two of us here now there is far less hot water required and the immersion heater would be able to cope with that demand. With this in mind a few days ago I isolated the boiler system and switched the immersion heater on instead. Everything worked fine for a few hours and then I noticed the power supply to the immersion heater switch was no longer there as the neon indicator wasn’t lit. Checking the circuit breaker I saw that it had tripped. I knew immediately what the problem was. The element, even though having not been used much in the preceding years, had been eaten away by the corrosive action of the water. I’ve seen this many times in the past when I have been asked in my capacity as an electrician to check why the immersion heater is faulty. On removing the elements I have always found them to be eaten through thereby causing a short-circuit. So now I have to replace my own immersion heater element at home for what is probably the same reason. If the water supply can eat away at metal elements it must be doing some damage to teeth! Water it seems isn’t as safe as you might think!
These past couple of days have been quite warm and sunny, not like Autumn at all. With nothing to do on Thursday I decided to clear away some of the accumulated leaves which each year find themselves in all the nooks and crannies around the outside of the house. One of the worst places for them accumulating is by the rear door to the garden from the cellar which is located behind the garage on the right of the house. When there is a high wind eddy-currents form behind the garage and in Autumn many leaves end up piled against the door and would spill into the cellar if they were not removed or kept in check. It is impossible to prevent the leaves collecting in the area so we just get on with it and clean them away. The problem only lasts during leaf-fall and that only when the wind is high during the few weeks of the season. Whilst outside I check the drains occasionally too as we have four open grids dotted around the rear of the house. I make sure they are all kept clear of debris or blockages. It is just as well I checked them on Thursday, three were completely covered by leaves and one was blocked completely though not because of leaves. This particular grid/drain serves the main bathroom and toilet on the first floor some twenty feet away (seven metres) and is surrounded by a small brick enclosure which serves to temper the flow of water as it gushes out of the drain pipe at some speed. The main problem with blockages here is due to hair and it doesn’t take much time for the grid to become completely clogged with nowhere for the water to go. Needless to say I try to keep an eye on it as often as I can remember. I checked it just in time, another flush of the bath would have seen water spilling out onto the path. Prodding the now invisible grid below the water I was able to clear a couple of holes allowing the water to drain away. I lifted the grid cover and hosed it down, removing the accumulated hair and sludge in the process. Well someone has to do these things! The grid that serves the kitchen sink sometimes gets blocked too in which case it is a question of sinking my arm up to the elbow to scoop out the grease solids that threaten to stop the flow of water like cholesterol in an artery! Not a pleasant job in the least but again, someone has to do it. I wonder though why it always has to be me! I don’t mind really but it plays havoc with my nail polish! The drain was all right on this occasion fortunately. It is fine doing these sorts of jobs whilst the weather is good, not so when it is cold and wet as it will be no doubt soon enough.
I don’t know how many of my readers actually browse the links over on the right-hand side of this page but I would like to draw attention to the Mars One Project listed as ‘Colonising Mars‘ under ‘Astronomy’. All of my life I have been interested in astronomy and space flight. I watched all the Moon projects and landings and always thought that one day mankind would venture further afield to explore our solar system. The Solar System is a very hostile place, even for the Earth but we are in a unique position and living on a very unique planet, one so finely balanced to allow life to flourish like nowhere else as far as we know. It is the only place in the Solar System that comes anywhere near the correct conditions for life, none of the other planets or their moons are really suitable for life to flourish. This is not to say that mankind could not populate some of those places but the prospect is fraught with problems. The first consideration is the temperature which must be of a reasonable level to allow any form of colonisation. Next is the atmosphere, it must not be corrosive or poisonous and it mustn’t be too dense. The next consideration is gravity which also must fall within acceptable levels. Then there is the availability of water, we cannot live without water. For small colonies the provision of a breathable atmosphere and water is less of a problem but even so would require an enormous effort to provide on a far off planet or moon. Ideally these commodities would be sourced on the planet itself rather than having them shipped from Earth. Initial supplies would naturally come from Earth but the colony would then need to provide these things for themselves. Aside from these essentials there is the need for protection against solar radiation, even here on Earth radiation can be a problem but we are protected from the more dangerous radiations by our strong magnetic field which forms a powerful screen deflecting the harmful radiation around the planet. Some of this radiation is pulled down into the atmosphere at the North and South poles giving us the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis or Northern and Southern Lights. The only planet that can possibly provide the basics for a colony under reasonable conditions is Mars. Mars has an atmosphere albeit quite tenuous, it probably has water too although at this moment that has to be proven. The temperature is cold but not extremely so. Nevertheless the night-time temperature drops to almost -150C in places whilst the maximum daytime temperature hardly exceed +20C . (For more comprehensive information see http://quest.nasa.gov/aero/planetary/mars.html )
It is of great interest to me therefore that there are organisations currently interested in making the prospect of colonising Mars a real possibility aside from NASA. The Mars One Project is one such organisation. They are proposing to have a small community of scientists living on Mars by 2023. Whether that is a feasible proposition to be fulfilled in ten years considering the planning and organisation of such a project I am not quite sure but no doubt it will be pursued whether or not. According to their proposals the journey would be one-way only so whoever decides to volunteer as a colonist will not have the opportunity to return to Earth, at least as things stand at the moment. That may change further down-line. Personally I cannot see the reason for such explorations even though the thought fascinates me. If we do colonise Mars or any other place within the Solar System it is unlikely that we would gain the ability to go further afield. I am more concerned about the planet on which we live and I think every effort should be made to make this a better place for us all, but that takes all of us to be interested!
Well that plumbing job was duly completed yesterday. I had to replace the inletwater assembly inside the cistern as the thread on the old assembly was worn. I connected it using a flexible pipe, removing the solid pipe work that was originally fitted. It will make any future maintenance far easier. The old inlet valve mechanism consisted of a simple valve arrangement with a floating ball which slowly closed as the water level increased, as they all do of course (see pictures at right). The old type of valve uses a floating ball on the end of a long arm but the new variety is much simpler and uses an inverted cup that the rising water raises because it is filled with air when the water is emptied out through flushing. This makes for a more compact arrangement. I had it fitted in minutes but I had to pay a visit to the plumbers merchant to get it first and it cost less than £12 to buy! I have always used a local business a mere five minutes away by car. I woke up fairly early that morning but didn’t fancy getting out of bed as I was still feeling tired from the previous day’s work. I managed an extra hour but had to succumb to paying the toilet a visit. It gets me out of bed every time! I checked that leaking pipe again to see if the temporary repair had held, which it had done but the rag wrapped around the pipe was rather damp. I knew I had to get on with a proper repair. When things like that happen at home they play on my mind until I am forced to do something about it. Where water is concerned that urgency is greater for water can make a terrible mess of decorations and woodwork if left to its own devices. A stitch in time certainly does save nine as the saying goes. Water can leak unnoticed for a long time by which time a considerable amount of damage can result. I suppose we can all be lazy when it come to maintenance tasks at home but it isn’t wise to leave things for too long without doing something about it when they go wrong. Simple jobs can turn into nightmares if not done as soon as possible sometimes so get them done and stop procrastinating!
It appears that approximately 20 million households are about to have imposed upon them a hose pipe ban and so early in the year. It’s not even the end of Winter yet when you would expect there to have been plenty of rainfall over the months by now. The ban will affect those living in the south and east mainly. I often take an interest in the weather and I have noticed that whenever we have had rain up here in the north-west it has seldom been raining down there as often. No doubt more water gets consumed or used there because of the higher population density. That, coupled with fewer lakes and reservoirs is bound to create potential shortages. The further north and west you go in this country the more hills and lakes you see. It is because of this and also the prevailing westerly winds bringing moisture from the Atlantic that we tend to get the first of the rain. Even here though it hasn’t rained all that much over the winter months. It is fine having nice sunny weather but it is also important that we get the rain too. It has been suggested that a national network similar to those of the electricity and gas industries also be established for water supplies. I wonder why this wasn’t suggested years ago. People do waste water though and often do not realise the effort that is put into providing clean and potable water at our taps (faucets). The infrastructures set in place in a country make living in these modern times feasible, without them society would not ne able to survive. I hope we get much more rain so that our reservoirs and lakes remain filled. Maybe this year it will happen for in so many previous years there has been a tendency toward drier weather and resulting droughts.
We have a television program here in the UK called Rip off Britain and it brings to light various complaints from viewers regarding their experiences with being ripped off by certain companies and organisations. I am of the opinion that we, as a nation, are being ripped off in all sorts of ways. A few years ago we something called the Poll Tax whereby every adult individual in the country had to pay a fixed sum of money which paid for amenities such as the police, fire brigade, water sewage, waste removal and other services that we each use. Many people did not like the tax as it was the same amount for everybody irrespective of their income. That resulted in an even more unfair system called Council Tax which is essentially the same a Rates. This system places a levy on each house and apartment in the country the amount of which is determined by the size of the property, irrespective of how many people living there. This means that two people living in a large house (as in my own case) can be charged more than six people living in a smaller house. How can that be fair? We each of us use the same amenities by the same amounts irrespective of the size of the property. A fairer system would be to re-introduce the Poll Tax but link it to a persons income so that the more that is earned the more that is paid. Place a fixed percentage on the taxed amount. This is only one example of the way people are ripped off, there are probably hundreds more.
About forty years ago I remember a television program called ‘Tomorrows World‘. It was a program about technical and medical inventions and progress with an outlook on future developments. On one particular program they showed a method of mixing petrol (gasolene for our american friends) with water using a sonic device. It was tested in a car and proved efficient, without any detrimental effect on the car’s performance. The ratio of the mixture was 25% petrol and 75% water! This would have cut fuel charges by almost 75% assuming there would be little water charges involved. What happened to that device? You can be certain that the inventor was bought out! In an age where we are desperately trying to cut fuel charges and emissions inventions such as these would be really valuable. Of course the government would lose a lot of revenue should such a device become available. Makes me wonder.
No doubt the reader will know of other incidences where we as a nation are being ripped off. Can you?