I went exploring on Hampstead Heath over lunchtime the other day, looking for wild things to photograph (see UKNatureBlog for the results). From the top of Parliament Hill I took this photograph looking back towards Canary Wharf and my work office in the nearer foreground. Click for bigger version.


I'm afraid that the nature posts are going to dry up here, but never fear for they're all now going to be on UKNatureBlog.com – a new blog specifically for the flora and fauna of the UK and all related things, setup by myself and Mrs C.

Go and have a look, bookmark it, and do please contribute. The cheeky chap below will be over there from now on.


28. July 2009 · Write a comment · Categories: Me
A few days ago we moved across St Albans to a much bigger place where hopefully we will stay for many years. Expect a number of DIY posts over the coming months! My fingers are already shredded from all the manual labour.

We've moved!
No, apparently not.


If you can't beat 'em...

[Posted from my iPhone with the free TypePad app, picture taken by the iPhone itself.]
I’m now on twitter. Shame on me.

My lovely wife got me a set of four port sippers for my birthday recently. One of my brothers got me a bottle of a good vintage port, and I still have a vintage bottle from a friend's wedding where I was best man. All I need now is a decanter and I'm go go go for a port party!

I've been wanting some of these sippers for years, since using some at a friend's house, but never actually finding them anywhere (internet or real world). It seems they're now freshly available and easy to find. They are delicate little handmade glass items, the idea being that you drink through the built-in straw, hence taking the liquid from the bottom rather than the top. Which is apparently a good thing, helping to "avoid oxidisation and improve taste". Apart from that they're just neat little things that are out of the ordinary.

A funny thing appears to be happening in the mortgage market, and it's of precisely no help to me, seeing as I just want to buy a house to live in. First some facts to set the scene.

  • Bank of England base rate here in the UK is down at 1%.
  • But you can't get a new mortgage with a rate any better than 5% if you only have a 15% deposit. That's the same rate you could get just 2 years ago, when the BoE base rate was 5.25% as far as I recall.
  • 15% is a not unreasonable deposit by standards of recent years, and it's certainly a huge chunk of cash given the astronomical price of a three bed semi these days.
  • If you have a 40% deposit, you can get a new mortgage with a 2.29% rate. 
  • The price of houses is by the way still about double what it was just ten short years ago.

The net result of this is that people with vast stacks of money just sitting around in savings accounts are realising that they're not getting any interest on their stash and might be better off investing in bricks and mortar. Seeing as they have these giant piles of cash they can pay a 40% deposit no problem and take advantage of the seriously cheap mortgage deals available only to the already mega-rich. I'm told by local estate agents that young folk are now streaming into their offices with their parents in tow (they supply the briefcase full of gold bars) to get their investment property sorted as a nice little earner.

And guess what this influx does? Pushes up property prices, keeping the money-go-round spinning for those lucky enough to be on it. So, I put forward the bold statement that the decrease in base rates combined with the existing lack of credit is actually shutting non-investors out of the market. Which is really annoying because I was hoping for a cheap-houses-for-all feeding frenzy of which I could be a part 🙁

Of course, I'm just bitter.

I recently bought a proper 'not tied for you in the factory' bow tie. Just a strip of wavy fabric to be assembled about my own neck! I figured I'd look (even more) dashing with the genuine article, tied just imperfectly enough to make it clear that it's the real deal. The instructions on the back of the box were frankly useless so I turned to Google and after a few pictorial, textual and video tutorials I got the hang of it:


It's not easy, and definitely requires a decent understanding of what you're supposed to do, then some practise until you can actually do it, followed by more practice to fettle it into looking half decent. It's worth being familiar enough with the procedure to be able to replicate it as necessary, since you may find some joker pulling yours undone at the ball! But my friends would never do that. And I had a backup pre-tied one in my pocket just in case.

My Marks and Sparks version came with an adjustable clasp in the middle, which is very useful to fit it to the neck properly and allows your hard fought bow creation to be saved for next time.

So, where are my instructions on how to do it? I shall cheekily defer to those that have gone before me, but humbly suggest that the easiest to follow description, and certainly the one that really sorted me out, can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJv4Qh7zR3E

Of course the very best thing about a real bow tie is that you can do the 'just heading back to the yacht in Monaco harbour for a night cap' look:


My MacBook laptop has had to go in for repair as a sliver is splintering off the plastic palm-rest where the lid touches it at the edge. There are also myriad hairline cracks appearing in the bottom shell around the front and back. The repair guy I took it to assured me this wasn't my fault and that it would be covered under warranty, which is good since I've got less than a month left on the year long warranty. Phew!

It seems this has become a common problem and that Apple is sorting it out under warranty so I'd advise anyone else with similar issues to get it sorted.

It does mean I'm without laptop for much of this week though, which is a pain.

Update: It was indeed fixed under warranty but it took a bit of wrangling with Apple on the phone as they weren't keen. It all hinged on whether I had been treating it well or not.

Update 2 (April 2009): It looks like Apple is capitulating and more generally recognising and fixing the issue, even outside of warranty, if reports are to be believed – e.g. AppleInsider's report.