Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Building a new woodstore

Mum, Fred and Hector came over to help me chop my cherry tree back (well, to substantially pollard it). Before getting started we needed to make somewhere to stack the wood. Fred took the lead and we were quickly attaching odd bits of wood to the wall and making a frame. Simon loaned me an angle grinder which made short work of cutting a piece of corrugated steel lengthways - what a great tool!

We didn't quite get finished but so far it looks pretty sturdy and like it will take a lot of logs! I got some of the wood from Freecycle and had some left over from some old victorian roofing timbers someone once gave me. I think the next job will be to make a sawbuck to help me saw up the logs.

An excellent day's work - I look forward to getting it finished and stacked with logs!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Went to the Eco-Build conference in London with Nicola and Arthur and met Yolanda down there. Pretty impressive show but it was a little disappointing to be aware that there was a dash of greenwash here and there, so much so that it is hard to figure out what is genuinely a good idea and what is just being pitched as a good idea.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fresh Eggs

My friend Andy from Impington Swimming Club is the person with the spare chicken coop. He let me have some eggs this week to persuade me. They did indeed look different from what we have come to regard as 'normal' eggs. They were very fresh and had nice thick shells. It does make you wonder what they do with the eggs we think of as normal.


Cambridge lunchtime runners

I've just set up a Cambridge Lunchtime Runners email group. People can join the group here.

It's just an informal group of friends who enjoy a trot along the river at lunchtime. All comers welcome.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ran 8 miles in the fens - Juliet's hosted sunday run

The tri club has started doing long runs on a sunday hosted by various individuals. This weekend Juliet hosted it at her place in Reach and led us on a run out to Wicken Fen. I'm not sure exactly what she does but she's a scientist working in wildlife (birds). Anyway - we got quite a tour guide!

The run was nicely paced but we split into 2 groups in the end. The lead group running sub-8 min/mile and the slower group running about 9 min/mile.

My legs felt very stiff after the cycling and I struggled a bit to hang out with those at the front. After about 6 miles, Gordon (an old mate from Smallworld) and I took the opportunity to join the slower group as we bumped into them in the fen somewhere.

On arrival back at Juliet's we had a bit of a stretch whilst being entertained by some shinanigans on trampoline, with Dave B particularly impressive.

We quickly went inside at the mention of tea and home made carrot cake of which there were lots, of high quality and seconds!

A nice way to top off my re-introduction to Cambridge Tri club.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tri club riding 55 miles and AGM

Ivan has been trying to convince me for some time to join them for the saturday morning tri club ride-out. I've missed cycling a lot so I built my bike on friday and showed up. About the only person I recognized was Juliet Vickery, which was lucky because she's really nice and introduced me around. I later found out she is nationally ranked 1st in her agegroup, which if you saw her would not be surprising. She's quick on the bike.

We had a great ride-out in the pack of about, perhaps 15-20 people. The pace was ok and I managed to take a turn at the front for a while with Maz and Ivan. I got into a bit of trouble because I went a bit too fast and then was a bit inconsistent. Most riders stop at a garden centre for a cuppa and some cake but Juliet, Ivan and me had things to do so we headed straight back. I casually asked how far it was back home and was surprised that it was 16 miles. We set off but it soon became apparent that Ivan and Juliet wer seriously on form and I was slowing. Ivan hates to drop anyone so came back but I sent him off with Juliet to keep up the good pace they were doing. Soon after I found a fish and chip shop in Toft! What fun though. Great to ride in a group again and on a fast bike. A friendly bunch too and well chosen route off the main roads. It didn't stop a number of motorists becoming impatient though and honking as they passed. Sometimes they seem to honk if you are not cycling on the cycle path. On the way back I tried it. Those motorists that honk should try it too. The cycle path on the south side of cambridge is awful. Really bumpy and messed up and not maintained like a road is. I can see why they are not used by serious cyclists.

I was invited to the tri club AGM tonight too, at the Red Lion in Histon. It was an impressive affair allowing an insight into how much people put in to their club and how much these folks do! We had food and a pub quiz too (our team, 'Fish on Bicycles' nearly won it too!).

I've been away from the tri club for quite some time and am very pleased to return and find a very good spirit of fun amid the seriousness of competition.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ran 5 miles with Adam

Ran the 5 mile loop, including the muddy bit, with Adam. Not too fast, mainly chatting but good to get out. I still am not feeling on great form.

Cheap Train Tickets: how to find hidden fares...

Chris from Chris's Bikes told me about these handy tips on train travel from MoneySavingExpert.com Cheap Train Tickets: how to find hidden fares.... Interesting stuff!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

another 5 mile walk

After a little lay in we had some breakfast and did the same 5 mile walk again. It's a lovely walk through the countryside, across fields and through woods. It was perhaps a bit much to ask Mum to do 5 miles on consecutive days but she did fine and did not konk out later asleep. I conclude that walking is very nice exercise!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mum's 65th Birthday

Doug and I arrived last night for Mum's birthday. On the day we presented her with, amongst other things, a heart rate monitor and a pedometer. As well as the usual birthday stuff we went for a walk, 5 miles and more than 10,000 steps. Mum doesn't usually walk that far and did very well indeed. It was very interesting to walk and check out our Heart rates. Walking does indeed seem to be good exercise. You need to walk about 30 minutes non-stop with an increased heart rate but you don't need to go mad. Walking does naturally seem to elevate the heart rate quite nicely.

Yolanda drove up later to meet Mum and help us celebrate her birthday. At the moment she met Mum the Heart Rate monitor was at hand so I asked her to see what hers was doing during the stress of meeting someone for the first time. I was fairly gob-smacked to see that it was showing 52. She is measurably cool as a cucumber. I'm afraid I would exhibit a bit more stress in such a situation.

I hope Mum had as much fun as we did.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ran 8 miles with Ivan in freezing fog

Sometimes people ask me how I motivate myself to work out. On a day like today it is a good question. I think we do what a lot of others do. We arrange to run with someone else. Once the 'contract' is made there is no getting out of it. Ivan proposed a run tonight, in freezing fog, as so we did it. I felt heavy for most of it but on the way back I started to feel like I was getting back to form. We agreed that such training, though somewhat mad, is good for coping with difficult conditions in a race. Oddly we saw about 6 other runners on the river.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eco security lights - nice!

My new security lights are installed. They are not quite so bright as the old ones, which is much nicer. The best bit is they are fluorescent tubes (24W) inside a standard 500W security light fitment. I have 3 around my house so now when they flick on it is just 72W instead of 450W. Quite a big saving!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

One phone call £189 - Mortgage Redemption Scandal

For ages I have been meaning to check the amount I paid, in 2006, when I redeemed my mortgage with The Woolwich (now Barclays) when I switched to The Co-op Bank instead. Last year the FSA made some rulings that redemption fees charged by mortgage providers were excessive - a Motley Fool article explains.

This morning I phoned Barclays on their hotline for redemption fee queries (08000 234180). They told me that when I took out the mortgage I agreed to a fee of £95 and when I redeemed it they charged me £275. Without any quibble at all they paid me back £180 plus £9 interest.

That was a phone call worth making!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Eco loaner

I spent some time this morning messing around with tents. My neighbour Simon is off on a trip and wanted to borrow one. This is very good for the environment since he does not need to go out and buy stuff - we can share it. We share a lot of things - a garden shredder, a car, ladders, whatever. Because of this we buy less stuff between us, and we get to be better neighbours, which is very important too.

Eco drainage unblocking - bicarbonate of soda and vinegar

This is a bit gross. I have 2 lodgers with long hair. The bath drain recently clogged. I tried a plunger but it wouldn't shift it. So, I tried bicarbonate of soda and vinegar (it was supposed to be white but I used normal malt). I scooped a bit of biacarb into the drain hole and poured on vinegar and watched the ensuing volcano erupt. For good measure I had a go with the plunger too. It didnt seem to work so I repeated the process. Disappointed I walked away. A few days later I noticed a hairball in the outside drain. It is only of the most disgusting things I have ever seen but I feel it worth mentioning since my eco solution worked!!!! My bath drain is now clear and the fur ball is in the bin (green composting bin of course).


Friday, February 08, 2008

Tempted by chicken coop

A friend of mine offered to give me a chicken coop tonight. I have to admit it is quite a tempting prospect. I wonder what the neighbours would say!

Late to bed...

"Late to bed and late to wake will keep you long on money and short on mistakes."
- Aaron McGruder

Thanks for this Google. I think it applies to me and my Nevadan friend Chris Whitefield. Mind you, it is more aspirational with regards the money!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Eco-dilema solved

Since returning home I'm living in the box room of my house. I sleep in a single bed with an awful mattress with poky springs. To overcome the pokiness I've been putting a 3/4 thermarest on top of the mattress. It works ok - well, it should do it worked ok sleeping outdoors for 3.5 months last year! It works ok on rock for goodness sake. But it is not very convenient perched on a mattress and moves about a bit.

I had almost given up on my old mattress and decided to consign it to the landfill but that bugged me, as did spending £200 on a new mattress. New mattresses, it seems, are now often made from memory foam - and that's the good ones I'm told. So, I managed to buy a 3" memory foam 'topper' to put over my existing mattress. I tried it last night and it worked great! I haven't had to throw the old one away and the topper uses less material than a whole new mattress. Neat and quite eco I think.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Neat supermarket comparison website

Someone just told me about this website: mySupermarket - Compare Supermarket Prices – MySupermarket the supermarket comparison site. It's pretty clever. You fill your shopping trolley with the things you normally buy and it tells you the cheapest place to buy them. It also suggests alternative products that are cheaper or low calorie which you might like to consider. Clever!

Monday, February 04, 2008

A lovely essay which reminded me of the hiking experience

I am a long time admirer of Kevin Kelly (KK) and heard of him through his Cool Tools emails. I recently read his 2007 Christmas Card (
NPR: The Universe Is Conspiring to Help Us) and really related to it following 3.5 months of hiking last summer. He describes very well the way you relate to people around you when you are living simply. Sometimes, when you are standing by the roadside in the rain and hoping for a lift and maybe some food, having hiked 100 miles over the last few days, what you really need is for a kind soul to stop and help you out. Give you a lift, or, almost as important, just be nice. Have a laugh and a smile and wish you well. I saw a lot of this over 1,500 miles of hiking. In fact, I have few recollections of people who were not nice, though, in some places unfortunately people seemed to scared to pick up hitchhikers, which was a shame. Mostly though, hiking 1,500 miles was a very human experience and KK captures it very well.