Builders have been in

Well, it’s now Friday and our builders have finally finished.  They arrived on Monday morning, and since then they’ve dug away the old raised path outside our sitting room, excavated the foundations for the new conservatory, completed the foundations and built the half-height wall ready for the doors, windows and roof to be installed next week.

There were just two guys, father and son.  Dad never drinks hot drinks, so we got through quite a lot of lemonade over the five days they were here.  But they both love cake!  Anything I produced was wolfed down.

They brought a little dog with them too.  He/she was very well-behaved, though next door’s cat got well barked at!

Different workmen will arrive on Monday.  Hopefully they’ll be done by the next day, and then our two cake-fans will be back to finish off the plastering.

And then it’ll be time to ‘christen’ our new room with a glass of something alcoholic!

Hopefully pictures to follow…

British Pension Fiascos

I read an article last week about ‘Final Salary Pension’ schemes.

A Final Salary Pension is typically a company pension scheme where workers put money into a pot that contains all the money from all the company employees. The company also contributes to the pot which is then invested, and hopefully grows over the years. At the end of the person’s working career, he or she is not given the money to invest in an annuity scheme, but instead the organisation running the pension pot, directly pays the retired employee their pension. Unlike annuity pensions, these company schemes are not designed to make a profit, so the employee gets a much better pension.

Sadly with the recent downturn in the economy, plus the fact that people are living longer after retiring, investments by the pension organisations were not growing sufficiently to enable everyone to get their pensions, and the employer had to make bigger and bigger contributions to keep the pension pot solvent.

Some of the schemes were closed to new employees and they had to go down the traditional saving scheme for an eventual annuity. Some schemes failed and the employees had to rely on the state to make up their pension shortfall.

My own company (BT) was one that closed their Final Salary Scheme for new employees but also went out of their way to prop up the pension pot and contributed £millions to ensure everyone got the pension they were promised.

The really serious problem is that many government bodies still offer these final salary pensions to their employees. The pension pots required to service the pensions is astronomical and the state has to inject unmanageable sums of money into the system.

For many years ways of overcoming the problem have been discussed but the workers’ rights have always been protected by the law and it has been almost impossible to reduce the financial burden of the various companies and of course the government.

It now seems the government is supporting, or possibly implementing, changes in the law that will allow companies the change the rules of the pension schemes. This will eventually mean that workers will get less, or not get the annual rises in the pensions as they might have hoped for. Other options considered included not having to pay a percentage of the pension to a spouse when the retiree dies.

For those of us already drawing our pensions these changes will probably not affect us or our spouses. But thousands of workers with perhaps just a few years left to work may suddenly find themselves having to work longer for that promised pension, or survive with a smaller one.

This is bad, but the article had a final twist that made the news even harder to swallow.

Members of parliament are entitled to these final salary style pensions. But it seems the planned changes to the law will not affect MPs’ pensions. They will continue to receive the full amounts; including the generous inflation proof rises each year.

Just as with the wonderful pay rise a couple of years ago that was far in excess of other Public Service workers, the MPs are now ensuring that they are not treated in the same way.  They already have a life with fantastic job satisfaction, they are paid a wonderful salary, and they get expenses to ensure they are never out of pocket.  They vote to ensure Public Service workers don’t get a pay rise and yet have their own pay rise that is more than many people can only dream of. Now they are considering new laws that will affect thousands of workers who have been in exhausting, boring jobs with little satisfaction for a lifetime when they retire. But those laws will not include the people making these decisions.

Shame on you!!

A Chaotic Fortnight

We start a rather chaotic and noisy fortnight which will probably annoy our neighbours.

Tomorrow (Monday) builders will be arriving to dig out the footings for our new conservatory. The builders estimate this stage is a week’s work.

First they have to dig away the existing narrow  concrete patio area and level it along with a strip of flower border. Next a retaining wall has to be built and the new concrete base laid. After that a low wall for the conservatory itself has to be built.

..and of course all the rubbish has to be taken away.

On Wednesday it is my 65th birthday, so the conservatory is a bit of a present. Of course we will be having a celebratory meal at some stage but not that day, as it is our dancing class evening.

The following week the conservatory itself will be constructed, and that will apparently take a further two days.

To complete the work, the builders will return to plaster the internal walls.

My bit of the project will be to bring a power feed to the conservatory that will be connected to a consumer unit to feed the power sockets and lights. I have done most of this work but I still have to lift a bit of floor, and then drill the hole out into the new conservatory. I can’t do that until the conservatory is in place so that I know where I have to make the hole.

All being well in about two weeks time we will have a new room to extend our living area where we can have a glass of wine as the evenings get a little cooler.

Once the building work is completed, we will be looking for a suitable place to go and have a couple of days away from the village. By the end of the chaos we will need a break with a bit of pampering.

 

Dark Side of the Internet

I watched an article last night on the television that made we wonder about some aspects of the Internet.

Most of us (the general public) are familiar with the internet pages of information, shopping possibilities, and the social forums….but

…there is another area of the internet that is restricted to a few that have very special software. It means only those people with the software, can access it and the information is encrypted. It means only those ‘in the club’ can see or understand what is available.

It is referred to as the ‘Dark Side of the Internet’ and although initially created for undercover agents, it now has more sinister undertones as it is used by criminals. Those using it can be confident that the original sender, or their loaction, cannot be traced

I had always thought it to be a ‘bad place’ and could not understand how and why it could be left to continue, but the journalist talking about it on a current affairs programme put another slant on it.

This restricted data zone is also used by journalists and members of civil rights organisations who want to be able to speak freely without being discovered wherever they are in the world

His thoughts seemed to make sense as he agreed that lots of really bad things go on, but it also allowed a lot of people like himself to remain safe.

After mulling over this for a while I have a problem.

Is it really so important for a small number of innocent people to have access to this ‘dark side’ while it also allows a huge number of criminals, and probably terrorists, to be able to act so freely as well?

I can’t see the justification to allow the guilty to commit all kinds of seriously bad activities. If it is based on software, then it must be possible to infiltrate and stop it.

…or would this act of protecting millions of people who are affected by the criminals, contravene the basic freedom of the  internet?

Surely something that restricts a freedom of access for all, also breaks the basic concept of the internet as well.

 

The waiting game

I was up before 7:00 this morning, and that is just a little early.

We have a delivery today with our new dishwasher. Our old one flooded the kitchen on Sunday and it was time to replace it. The company (Currys) offers free delivery, and actually advertises it as ‘from next day’. Well it was free delivery, but wasn’t the next day. In fact it was for three days later …..today!

On one sour note I was caught out when I was asked if I wanted it installed, and did we have an old one to take away. Well having not been quoted a price for these services, I agreed.

Our free delivery turned into an increased price of £25. OK my mistake for not asking, and not looking at the card machine to see how much I was paying.

Anyway I was up at 7:00 to be sure I wouldn’t be caught out by the delivery men. The time slot for the delivery is from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. Fortunately I am retired and can just hang around while bored to tears.

But 13 hours is a rather wide time slot.

Apparently we will get a phone call 30 minutes before they intend to arrive….

..yeh, I’ve heard that one before!

In the meantime I have missed being able to help out at the Village Lunch Club where I volunteered to give some time.

If the delivery is as late as 8:00 we will also miss our dance class.

Of course I could have paid an extra £19 and chose a time slot. So in truth the ‘Free Delivery’ is actually far from free unless you are happy to potentially waste a day.

Maybe I remember why I don’t like Currys.

 

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

We have another six weeks before having our late summer cruise on P&O’s Oriana. This will take us up the west coast of Britain to visit Scotland before an overnight stop in Dublin on the way home. It is just eight days but it will be enough to keep us going until January when we are off on the World Cruise for the winter.

Today I ticked off another of the major preparation tasks for that cruise. I finally spent a lot of money to get the travel insurance.

I have been checking various companies and getting dummy quotes from several online insurance providers but it was becoming urgent to get something in place. I spent three quarters of an hour on the phone this morning to a very helpful Wesley from ‘Avanti Insurance’. He said he would be really thrilled if his name got into my blog, and I am happy to oblige after his patience in sorting out the policy.

Thanks Wesley.

Anyway we now have two travel insurance policies. One is the 12 months rolling one and that was a small fraction of the cost I paid for todays ‘single event’ cover.

It is another hidden cost of going on a major cruise voyage, especially as it visits so many countries. Putting the price into context, I could have bought five years of annual cover for the price of this one. Of course it doesn’t help that both of us carry a small mountain of medicine with us when we go on holiday, and my joints are wearing away, but we are both in our 60s, and it has to be accepted.

The next thing on the list of ‘to do’ items is to count the number of free pages in Deb’s passport and decide if it has to be renewed to make way for the various visas and stamps that will be applied to it as we bob around the oceans visiting five different continents with some quite special and exotic countries.

After that it is the important visa for India and the online visitor certificates for USA and Australia. The rest of the visas etc. are sorted out while we are on the ship, and it was a major surprise last time to find out just how many coloured stamps had appeared when we finally had our passports back.

It is less than six months now before we board Aurora for 104 days at sea. It could be 105 days because we sail eastwards so gain a day as we cross the International Date Line. This is yet another strange phenomenon of a circumnavigation. Last time one of our dinner table mates had her birthday on the day that never was. She didn’t mind too much as without having a birthday meant she hadn’t got a year older.

Speak to you soon

 

And so it starts….

We’ve got a fair bit of work happening to the house in the coming weeks, and it started at the weekend.

First thing, George began the process of converting our redundant airing cupboard into a wardrobe, which included removing shelves, filling holes, and generally making good.  Then I got in there and slapped a load of white emulsion around, just to lighten it all up.

Now the wardrobe rail is up, and a new shelf is ready to go.

And while he was doing strange things in the cupboard, George also investigated electrics.  As a result of that, today he’s had the floorboards up on the landing and in the study, and has been drilling holes ready for electric cables to go to the new conservatory.

Then this afternoon the roofing guys turned up and built a scaffolding tower on the terrace outside our kitchen.  They’ll be back first thing tomorrow to do mysterious and expensive things to our roof.

So that’s Tuesday sorted, but they might have to come back on Wednesday to finish the job – and Wednesday’s also the day our new dishwasher’s being delivered.  “Sometime between 7.00 in the morning and 8.00 in the evening”.  Don’t you just love precision planning?

The building work (foundations, base and walls) for our new conservatory begins next Monday.  Don’t know how long that’ll take: the sales rep reckoned about a week, but the surveyor said two or three days.  We’ll see.

Once that’s done, hopefully it won’t be too long until the conservatory’s completed and all our visiting workmen can leave us in peace again.  Although thinking about it, we’re planning on replacing the stair and landing carpet when all is done, so that’ll be more disruption, albeit briefly!

Good job we’ve got another cruise booked soon – think we’re going to need it!

Site Failure

For anyone who has had issues getting to the site for the last few days I apologise.

It appears was some attempted hacking going on which led to it being blocked. It also meant having to reset my password and that caused even more problems.

Anyway I am back again.

It is also very hot and humid which has reduced my enthusiasm to be creative, so bear with me for a day until I get some mental energy again.

More Martyrs of Peace

Martyrs of Peace

God bless the innocent people in Nice who lost their lives yesterday. France has suffered some horrendous months, but terrorism has brought fear and murder to almost every continent of our world.

The activities of these fanatical butchers are carried out in the name of religion, but I don’t believe any religious faith includes the instructions to maim, terrify, and kill.

Somewhere there are misguided leaders, generals, and paymasters that are convincing their followers to find soft, innocent targets to inflict death upon. These brainwashed people believe that their actions will make them martyrs, but they are so, so, wrong.

The true martyrs of the carnage in France this week, are the innocent people who have died in the name of peace. They are also martyrs for their beliefs that everyone is equal irrespective of their race, or gender, and no matter what their religious faiths are.

Sadly the dead terrorists do not see the outcome of what they have done. They do not hear the response of those who survive their atrocities. They do not realise that their cowardly, pointless actions just harden the condemnation of their ideology.

The only way to create change is coming to a discussion table. They have to talk through their differences with their supposed enemies, and negotiate a peaceful agreement for a way forward.

Hiding away under a cloak of religion, and making cowardly attacks on innocent people around the world will not make a difference, and will just make any eventual change longer and longer away, plus being more, and more difficult to achieve.

May the different Gods bless their innocent martyrs, and may all the leaders and paymasters of the guilty realise their ideology will never be achieved by terrorism.

Visitors to our garden

Visitors to our garden

We have discovered that some rabbits are visiting our garden…

…oh?

They are quite young and just a few inches high…

…aaw how sweet!

But we grow vegetables in our garden and the lettuces are rather lush…

…aah that’s not good

Strangely after at least three days of their visits the lettuce appear untouched…

…. oh that’s lucky

This evening we noticed a little bunny on its hind legs stretching about eight inches up in our runner beans…

…aaggh that’s bad

We took a look and we now have several well nibbled sweet, young, and fresh runner beans…

…whoops!

Fortunately, the rabbits can only reach up a little way, and soon the beans at that level will be all picked, or nibbled…

…that’s good then

Unless of course they bring their parents and the other grown up rabbits….

…hah, hah!!!!

Hey, stop laughing, we like our beans.

OK, we grow a lot in our garden and enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables, but we live in the countryside, and we get a lot of pleasure from nature, as well as a few unwanted visitors. There are lots of birds that come to see us and they have ignored the majority of our fruit. A few bunnies nibbling low level vegetables are acceptable…within reason.

If we have to protect a few of the delicate vegetables then that is a small price  to pay for the joys of the different visitors to our garden.