Books, life the universe

Monday, 27 June 2011

Books read and heard

I have belatedly discovered Lindsey Davis's Falco series about a Roman private eye. I listened to the audio book version of See Delphi and Die - which has to be one of the best titles for a book - and was hooked. I'm not sure why I was never attracted to this series before but it could be because I tried Cadfael and couldn't get into that. Not logical I know but there we are. I have so far read The Silver Pigs and Shadows in Bronze and have just started the third one - Venus in Copper.

Why do I like them? Falco's attitude to his own successes and failures; the characters themselves and the way Falco often finds common ground with those he's investigating; his ability to tell it as he sees it to the Emperor and get away with it; the fascinating details about life in ancient Rome. Then of course there's the humour which is priceless. Even though I am now reading the series in order they can be read, or listened to, out of order as each book stands alone. If you go for the audio books then Christian Rodska is an excellent reader in my opinion.

I have just finished Jane Shaw's Talking to Zeus about the year she spent in Greece working in a garden on a hillside. Not a travelogue but a slice of life with some marvellous and eccentric characters both human and animal. Zeus by the way is a stuffed lion.

I really enjoyed the latest in Veronica Heley's cosy crime series featuring Ellie Quicke - Murder my Neighbour. Ellie is married to Thomas and struggling to combat her daughter Diana's latest demand for money as well as deal with the failing health of her housekeeper and friend, Rose, when she is presented with a mystery to solve. One of her neighbours has moved out of her house supposedly to take up residence is a retirement home - but she never arrived there.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Solar panels

In response to a comment on my previous post from kcm:

Our installation got off to a good start on the day before it was planned as the electrician turned up and asked if he could start his bit of the work early. The electric bit is quite straightforward. It involves running a cable from the roof outside the house in trunking and into the house near the fuse box. Nothing goes into the electricity meter.

Provided you've got a spare slot in the fuse box - called consumer units these days - it is straightforward. I think if you don't have they can add something on to it fairly easily. There is a big red switch with all sorts of warning notices on it as if you're doing any electrical work in the house the solar panels need to be isolated as well. Above that there's a small meter - which looks like the electricity meter which your electricity company reads. This can tell you how much you've generated and how much you've used yourself.

Maximum output from our panels is 2.5kw and we've generated 60.2kw since last Wednesday in relatively dull conditions. We've used 48kw. No one needs to come and read this meter as it transmits the data to the company via the mobile phone network. In our case what electricity we use we get free and what we don't use the company gets paid for by the government/energy company as it feeds back into the national grid. If you pay for your panels then you get paid for what you generate but don't use by a corresponding reduction in your bill or by direct payment - not sure quite how that works as it didn't apply in our case.

Apart from the meter and the switch there is what is called an inverter in the loft which converts direct current to alternating current. This is about half the size of the average microwave. Then there are panels on the roof which slot into metal tracks so that if one needs replacing it can be taken out and replaced. There is no need to take the roof apart or any tiles off for that matter. I think - but I don't know as I didn't watch - that they drill through the tiles into the beams of the roof so that the panels are well and truly anchored and no the roof won't leak afterwards - I asked.

The only mess involved was brick dust in the hall where the electrician had been working which he swept up and some brick dust outside which quickly blew away and I've found the odd screw in amongst our slate on the front garden. They drilled holes in the wall outside so that they could insert steel eyes by which to anchor their portable scaffolding - though they did ask first if it was ok and they've filled them in again - well I assume they have as I can't find them!

The problem we had with ours was that on the day it was supposed to be done - last Tuesday - the guys doing it didn't turn up until lunch time because they'd been given the wrong panels and equipment and then when they arrived with the right stuff and measured the roof they found they couldn't arrange the panels how they'd been told to. That necessitated a manager coming out and telling them it was all right to put them the other way round - portrait instead of landscape. I laid down the law to the manager - this was 2.00pm - and said because of MJR's recent operation I did not want them doing the work that day as it meant they'd be working into the evening.

The manager in the end was very grovelly and agreed that it would be done the next day. The next day they turned up early and got straight on with the work. By 11.00am they'd just got to put the panels on and they were waiting for another gang to finish with the pulley system they needed - 'elf and safety! In the end it was the wrong one when it turned up but there were about six men here by that time and the panels were put on. So the problems were caused by lack of organisation by the company itself not by any unwillingness to work on the part of the people involved.

I must say that in spite of the organisational problems I was very impressed with the attitude of the people doing the job as they worked hard and didn't keep stopping for breaks and clearly knew exactly what they were doing. Mess created was an absolute minimum. There was a fair amount of noise but for a relatively short space of time. They reckon they can do the job normally by about 1.30pm if they start at 9.00am.

I've seen solar panels on houses which face East/West - in fact I can see one if I look out of the window now so I'm not sure how critical the direction is. What is more important I think is whether your roof is a plain straightforward roof with no little gables or windows and it mustn't be hip-ended - i.e. coming to a point in the middle. They want the biggest expanse of roof possible. It is not just how much sunlight I think but whether or not your roof is always in shadow since we are generating at the moment - only about 0.9kw - even though it is dull and cloudy and the sun isn't actually visible. It basically just has to be light but to work at full capacity it needs sunlight.

It's worth looking on even if you don't think your house is suitable.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Solar panels

We have just had solar panels fitted to the roof. We're fortunate in that our house faces almost due south and gets the sun at the front virtually all day. But solar panels work on light not just when the sun is visible - which I didn't know until the other day. The maximum we can generate is 2.5kw. Of course it has been cloudy since we had them fitted on Wednesday so we haven't been able to generate the maximum amount most of the time. On Thursday it was quite sunny and I looked at our electricity monitor and it was showing we were using no electricity even though the fridge/freezer was on, two computers were on as well as a pedestal fan and various others odds and ends.

What is even better than the reduced electricity bills in future is that the panels were free and are maintained free for 25 years. It's part of a government sponsored initiative and was done through this company - Anyone can apply and they will tell you whether your house is suitable without sending anyone out to see it by looking at your house on Google Earth. Not everyone gets it free - though I've no idea how they decide whether you have to pay or not. I know we could have been asked to pay £500 and we were considering whether we would do it if we had to pay. But as it turned out we didn't have to pay.

Hated expressions and abbreviations

I really detest the following abbreviations/expressions which seem to be in common use:

'My bad' when people mean 'I was wrong'

'Addy' when people mean 'address'

'Baggy' when people mean 'bag'

Those three expressions are like chalk squeaking on a blackboard to me!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Books read and unread

I have been most impressed by two books over the last few weeks:

Dead End by Leigh Russell - the third book in the DI Geraldine Russell crime series. In my opinion this is the best book so far in this excellent series. Abigail Kirby - headmistress of a local school - is found murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion. At first there is very little evidence and the team fall back on the tried and trusted suspect - Abigail's husband, Matthew. But Geraldine herself is not convinced. It is when someone who saw Abigail in the last few hours before her death disappears that the pace of the investigation hots up and the tension mounts up. I found myself saying - I'll just read one more chapter, then realising I'd read three more!! I read over half the book in one evening and I can thoroughly recommend this series -especially this latest book - Dead End.

Gently in the Sun by Alan Hunter - Gently is sent to a Northshire village to investigate the murder of a visitor Rachel Campion. There is a heatwave and the first thing Gently does is buy himself some colourful shirts and a straw hat and sandals not to speak of an Ice cream. The portrait of a fishing village with the fishermen who seem unwilling to tell him anything is excellent as are the descriptions of the effect the incredibly hot weather has on people. The description of the thunderstorm across the wide skies of East Anglia towards the end of the book is brilliantly atmospheric.