Category Archives: General

Didn’t know they had these…

Got a quick snap of a DVLA van in our street the other day…

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The things on the roof are cameras, looking out for the registration numbers of untaxed vehicles. Now that we no longer have tax discs, the traffic wardens can’t easily do it.

One of my neighbours had let theirs lapse accidentally, and got a big sticker on their window…

Poetry Reading

A mistake reading poetry at night, I find,
   but not for fear of sleepless angst
   nor yet of haunted dreams.
Good verse needs concentration,
   yes, and coffee.
Bedtime is for prose.

Standardising the whatchamacallit

IMG_2542Here’s something that could do with a standards body. I don’t even know what these are called. Quick-release webbing buckle? Something like that.

But wouldn’t it be handy if you could clip any two (of approximately the same size) together? Buy extension straps and know that they’d work? Clip your camera case onto your rucksack and your dog lead onto your pushchair?

You know it makes sense. All you have to do is boycott manufacturers who aren’t paying members of QIQRWBSC (Quentin’s International Quick-Release Webbing Buckle Standards Committee).

Politics corrupts, and Presidential politics corrupts absolutely

This Guardian piece by Julia O’Malley gives a rather different viewpoint on Sarah Palin from the one we usually hear.

There was a time when Sarah Palin was normal by Alaska standards. Way back before the hoopla, and way before she endorsed Donald Trump, she made sense as a politician here. That’s not the case any more. I’m told she lives in Alaska most of the time, but she’s invisible in public life.

But back in the day, I liked her – and so did many in my community. I’m not conservative, but she grew on me when I worked as a reporter in Anchorage in the mid-2000s, and the reason had nothing to do with politics. She was a kind of regular person I recognized as of this place. Tough, funny, pragmatic. She loved Alaska like I did. If you didn’t know her then, it’s hard to explain or believe.

Worth a read. Especially for anyone thinking of going into politics…

Thanks to Hamid Farzaneh for the link.

Evening light

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St Mary’s Church, Stoke-by-Nayland, last weekend.

No translation needed

OK – it’s not often I’d post an advertisement here. But then it’s not often I’d voluntarily watch one twice in a row, either :-)

Disentangled

I wonder if this came about as a result of courtship or combat? Rather a wonderful video, anyway.

Needles in a haystack

I needed some staples.

I went to my stationery cupboard.

I discover that, in the past, I used to get everything from the same bricks and mortar stationery store, so everything in there is labelled ‘Staples’.

Most confusing.

Like the Christmas windows at Harrods

Jessamy Caulkin interviewed David Attenborough for the Telegraph Magazine.

At one point, he talks about scuba diving, which has long a favourite hobby of mine, but Attenborough, of course, explains its appeal much better than I can.

‘People say, “What was the most magical moment in your career as a naturalist?” and I always reply, “The first time I put on a mask and went below the surface and moved in three dimensions with just the flick of a fin, and suddenly saw all these amazing multi-coloured things living in communities right there.”‘

His initiation into scuba diving, he tells me, is indelibly printed on his mind. ‘You suddenly realise you can move in any direction. You’re not harnessed by gravity any more. You’re free. It’s bliss. An extraordinary experience, like going into space. There’s no equivalent anywhere else in the natural world of such splendour: all of these things moving through an architecture of coral.’ ‘You never know what you’re going to see when you turn the corner – it’s far more obviously exciting and visually thrilling than, say, the tropical rainforest, which is the nearest biological parallel. In the rainforest they’re all hiding, so you have to be quite a good naturalist to really see what splendours are there. But on the reef they’re all on display. It’s like the Christmas windows at Harrods.’

Some years ago, by a happy coincidence of flight timings, I spent my 40th birthday on the Barrier Reef. I didn’t have quite the same photographic capabilities with me as Sir David, alas!

End o’ the Defender

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An early Land Rover in Singapore

Jaguar Land Rover have announced that production of the Defender, first produced in 1948, will be ceasing next year. This is not surprising and makes perfect sense. What Car? magazine are quoted in this Guardian article:

“Off-road, very little can touch it. On-road, there’s very little to recommend it.”

Still, after nearly 60 years, it’s hard not to think of it as the sad demise of a classic British icon.

I have a soft spot for them, even though I’ve very seldom been in one in the last few decades, and I’ve never owned one, despite trying to think of a good excuse! At the time I was born, though, my parents were working in northern Kenya, and I apparently spent much of my time, both before and after my birth, riding around in one, so perhaps I have early imprinted memories. They certainly tend to feature in lots of family photographs.

Land Rover estimate that about two-thirds of all the Land Rover Defenders ever built are still in operation.

We’ve just passed the outer marker

One of the good things about being in December is that we’ve now broken through the Mince Pie Horizon. I’m sure you know about this: supermarkets start stocking mince pies… well… sometime in the spring, I think… but you know you aren’t really allowed them yet. They’re just there to tempt you, until that special time – and every man must go on a spirit quest to discover this time for himself – when you’re close enough to Christmas to enjoy them with a clear conscience but not so close that you don’t have time to try out several different varieties and work out who’s making the best ones this year.

Then there’s a time when you pass the inner mince pie marker, which orbits at a distance of about two weeks from Christmas. Once within its sphere, you are allowed to warm them in the microwave and add brandy butter. That’s somewhere I will boldly go very soon.

When you think about this, though, I’m sure you’ll agree that mince pies hold an important symbolic meaning. I think there’s a kind of John the Baptist thing going on here. A voice calling in the early December wilderness….

There was a pudding, sent from Waitrose, whose name was Mince Pie. It was not the Christmas Pudding, but it came to bear witness to the Christmas Pudding. This is the true Pudding, which gives sustenance to every man who cometh into the world….

My first electric fortnight

20151126-09345001-600Well, I’m just over two weeks into the world of electric car ownership, and enjoying it very much so far.

I’ve driven about 400 miles in my i3, and since some proportion of my charging has been at free public charging points, the ‘fuel’ cost to me so far has been about 4 quid. If you conveniently ignore the enormous purchase price and future depreciation of an almost-new BMW, the cost of actually running an electric car is less than going by bus, a lot less than using traditional car, and phenomenally cheap when compared to a train.

What I didn’t realise, though, when I first started this, was that I was taking on a hobby as well. There are many reasons why people buy electric cars (and here I’m talking about purely- or predominantly-battery-powered, rather than hybrids). I think a large group — the relatively silent majority — buy, say, a Nissan Leaf or a Renault Zoe as a second car, charge it in their driveway each night, and use it for all their around-town day-to-day stuff, but rely on the Volvo diesel for going on holiday or for anything much beyond the range of a single charge. That, at present, is an exceedingly sensible use of an electric vehicle.

Then there are people like me. Some of us are tree-huggers. Some are gadget enthusiasts. But we feel like real pioneers because life is a bit harder out there on the frontier. We depend much more, perhaps entirely, on our batteries. We know acronyms that you don’t know. We measure efficiency in miles-per-kWh. We understand how best to handle the chaos that is the current public charging infrastructure, and we know when the charging stations at Leicester Forest East or South Mimms are out of action. In short, it’s an enthusiasts’ club, and it reminds me more than anything of the days in my youth when I used to go sailing, or caravanning, or hang-gliding; when people with beards would gather in out-of-the-way places to discuss windspeeds, safe harbours, and the various cunning hacks they’ve made to their equipment, or their lifestyles, to allow them to pursue this interest more effectively. It’s actually a big part of the fun. Most of these communities are now on Facebook or other forums, of course, and they are exceedingly good-natured and informative. One completely unexpected change for me is that I now consult Facebook once or twice a day because it actually contains stuff that interests me — in the past I seldom ever looked at it except in response to messages or comments from others. And it’s fun that there are occasional real-life meetups too, like the one I visited last month.

Unlike hobbies such as sailing, or classic-car restoration, though, this really is pioneering, in the sense that what we’re doing is clearly anticipating the future and trying to live in it a bit earlier than is perhaps sensible. In my case, for example, I don’t have off-street parking, so I have to jump through some hoops to charge in the street without inconveniencing my neighbours. And since my outdoor fast charging socket won’t be installed for another week or so, I currently refuel my car by running an extension lead through my letter box a couple of times a week! This seems like a hassle, but it actually takes less time than visiting those big smelly petrol stations I remember from the past. If I were really sentimental, it might occur to me that my cute little car prefers coming back in the evening for comfort and refreshment at home, rather than going to one of those brightly-coloured flashy bars that some other cars go to, where the drinks are so expensive. But I’m not that soppy, so it didn’t occur to me at all.

My situation does highlight a challenge that governments are going to have to face soon, though: the places that will benefit most from electric vehicles are the cities, which are also the places where the smallest proportion of residents will be able to charge at home. I think a key part of making this work will be ensuring plentiful opportunities for occasional casual charging in car parks, on the street, at businesses, cafes, pubs and supermarkets. We need to start thinking about a power infrastructure that allows the majority of parking places at your local Tesco to provide a few kilowatts, rather than just one or two specially-marked spots in the corner.

And the i3 is proving an interesting venture for BMW, too. Whether it’s a financial success overall remains to be seen, but articles like this one yield some intriguing statistics: more than 80% of BMW i3 buyers worldwide have not been BMW customers before, for example, (including me), and in Norway (where almost all electricity is from renewable sources), the i3 is the best-selling BMW across the entire range…

Anyway, going back to my original thread, you might point out that claims of being a hardy pioneer are a bit rich coming from someone with nice heated leather seats in his BMW. And you would be right. There are others who have been doing this for years, in less capable vehicles, and who depend on it for a daily commute. I cannot even claim to have cut the fossil-fuel umbilical cord completely because my car does have a ‘range-extender’ – a small built-in generator in the back with a couple of gallons of petrol, which can maintain the battery charge at its current level in situations when charging really isn’t an option. The i3 is not really a hybrid, it’s an electric car with an optional safety net accessory – something to get us through the next five or ten years while the charging infrastructure solidifies – and in my case, something which allows me to consider an electric vehicle as our only car. I haven’t actually used the range extender yet, except for demonstrating it briefly to friends, so I can still use a nice phrase I saw online recently: “It’s good to get my MPG back into four figures.” No, my only real claim to hardship at present is in the sudden and rather dramatic change in my bank balance, comparable to if I had decided to buy a modest boat or motorhome.

What I’d really like to do is follow the example of some EV enthusiasts who charge their cars primarily from solar, and can claim to drive around the country powered only by sunshine. But that would involve moving house to something with off-street parking and a roof facing in the right direction. No. Not yet. But as I was ticking off the miles cruising home in comfort down the motorway at 70mph yesterday night in the rain, it did occur to me that even this was a quite remarkable ability to have achieved from that little cable I occasionally run through my letterbox.

You see why we’re enthusiasts?

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser