Winter’s Flotsam

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Another couple of weeks into winter and it is rapidly turning into one of those spent taking sweepstakes on when the monsoons are likely to wash the road into the river again (like 2013/14), as opposed to one spent trying to work out how many pairs of gloves one can wear and operate secateurs at the same time (2009/10).

Whether we can draw any conclusions about the coming season from this – I confidently predicted that the rain would, er, “run out” last winter – remains a mystery. What is for certain is that we are most unlikely to move into one of the holiday lets over the road to thaw out again this year, as we have now upgraded from a caravan to a centrally heated house. In any event, a week spent in a log cabin kept at a steady 30oC was wonderful while it lasted, but backfired utterly as it took 48 hours to thaw the water on the inside of our caravan out on our return. Which is about as much fun as it sounds. Improbably, we remained married throughout this particular ordeal and have learned to whine about problems that aren’t really problems like normal people in the intervening period.

In fairness, thus far this winter has treated us fairly well. Nothing has collapsed or been blown away, the river at the bottom of our lane remains only slightly dangerously high and I haven’t seen a single tree floating about in it yet either. We were obviously obliged to collect most of the things that weren’t nailed down around the house from the surrounding area after last week’s gales, but this remains very much par for the course. One can certainly remain sanguine about collecting our wind driven rubbish after the storm when one has endured the misery of chasing the roof of a shed across a field in the middle of one.

In fact, just yesterday I was remarking to Lucy that last year’s wind turbine (we smash approximately one per year) hasn’t fallen over yet, in spite of some impressive provocation from the elements. The problem with budget wind turbines is that when it gets windy, they actively go looking for trouble, following the wind around in an attempt to make as much power as possible. In our experience, the very moment after they start being of any real use, they yank whatever they are anchored with out of the ground, fall over and smash into a million pieces.

If you haven’t been with us for long, you perhaps won’t be aware that we make all of our own power with the combination of wind turbine, solar panels and diesel generator as we are not connected to the grid. I generally pretend that this is a chore, but actually quite enjoy the ongoing challenge of producing as much of it as possible, and as the proud owners of a couple of kids, we are keen to leave as small of a footprint as possible (wind distributed flotsam excepted).

The diesel generator is very nearly as old as I am and was procured for a trifling sum from the farmer we bought the land from. After picking the brains of some particularly practical friends, one no longer need take a crank handle to it start it, it is incredibly dependable and drinks considerably less diesel than either of our cars. The same is true of the solar panels – so much so, that we have plans to plant several more behind the house presently. They are also increasingly cost effective. Apparently this has something to do with the Chinese deliberately irritating the American government for some reason, so they also have that in their favour too.

The problem with solar panels is that they are anodyne. They sit smugly on top of our shed (not the one with wandering roof, another one), magically producing electricity out of thin air without making noise, moving, or doing anything particularly exciting at all. On the other hand, wind turbines are all business, whizzing around at impossible speed, making a racket and advertising to anyone within earshot that they are here to help, whether you want it or not. Like an eager and idiotic Labrador before it chews your furniture. And who wouldn’t want that in their lives?

So, we were both braving the elements last week and noticed for the thousandth time that in spite of cleverly building our house at the bottom of a hill, with woodland on two sides, that there is still quite a lot of wind buffeting these intrepid explorers as they venture into the fields. The wonky shed is wobbling, as are the latest crop of broken trellis posts, there are vine guards cartwheeling all over the place and there are even the latest batch of last season’s vine leaves making their own way off to wherever the vine leaf graveyard is. And the wind turbine? That has developed an interesting new tick of pointing in any direction other than where the wind is coming from and refusing to spin. Which is novel.

I was going to tell you all about our Pinot Noir this week but have run out of space. I appreciate that real estate on the internet is essentially infinite, but that your attention probably isn’t, so I’ll start with that next time. Promise.

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