I recently had the privilege of interviewing TV presenter Chris Packham for my other site: He was a very straightforward and knowledgeable chap who's clearly passionate about what he does. It was interesting to get an insight into his own garden full of birds, his photography kit and activities, and the deeper topics of the cut and thrust of modern conservation.

It's in three instalments: one, two, three. Personally I think the third is the best!

I was particularly chuffed, and even rather impressed to see that in Hertfordshire apparently "just under 70 per cent of the county's household waste was sent for re-use, recycling or composting" in April and June. That's scarcely believable actually, but I've seen the increasing facilities and attention to separating waste for re-use at the local tip, and I'd say that we personally recycle at about that rate. Now we've moved into a house rather than a flat we have recycling boxes and a big green wheelie bin for garden waste and card, making it easier than ever.

We're doing a lot of work on the garden recently though so the big green bin is usually overflowing whereas the black bin just has a paltry amount of waste in the bottom, even with the 2 weeks between collections.

Full story over at St Albans Review.

Update (26th Aug 2009): It does now seem to be working and I've successfully ordered my copy. In fact it tried to order me 4 copies, apparently having remembered my previous failed attempts.

I recently bought a new Mac so I qualify to get Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) super-cheap as part of Apple's Up-To-Date program. Unfortunately, the online up-to-date system doesn't seem to be working, for the UK at least. Here's my transcript of live chat with the Apple rep, where they state that indeed it's not working and they know it.

  • You are chatting with Danielle C, an Apple Expert

  • Hi, my name is Danielle C. Welcome to Apple!

  • Hello – I'm struggling to use the Snow Leopard Up to date program.

  • Good evening

  • You are trying to register for it online?

  • I click through, fill in details, it says my computer is qualifying, but then it says "There are no items in your basket"

  • yes – using website

  • I apologize for the inconvenience.

  • I'm clicking through from

  • Unfortunately there is a glitch in the site, you can still order via post or fax in your order form.

  • :-/

  • I've been trying for days.

  • Using different browsers, assuming the problem might be my fault.

  • The site is not working for most people trying to order it unfortunately.

  • You would have to fax or send in your order form.

  • How about putting something up on the page to say so, to save all those people's time?

  • I am very sorry about the inconvenience.

  • How do I email in an order?

  • You cannot email it in, it has to be Fax or Post.

  • I bet a lot of people will stump up the full amount, to get past the inconvenience.

  • Which might be why nobody's fixing it or even putting up a sign saying it's broken. But that's the cynic in me.

  • Do you know when it might be fixed? I'll wait if it's fairly soon.

  • Unfortunately I would not have that information.

  • Do you mind if I post this transcript on my blog?

  • Thanks for waiting. I'll be right with you.

  • Sure.

I was pleasantly surprised when I went to pay my most recent credit card bill. Not only was it relatively small for a change, but the BarclayCard website has been revamped, with that most unusual of results: a markedly better user experience!

They now show a coloured bar meter indicating your total credit limit (the whole length of the bar) with your last statement and current total outstanding clearly marked as coloured portions of it. It's a really great way to graphically show the balance. They've clearly paid attention to every aspect of user interaction, with the flow being very straightforward and very clearly guided at all times, but not onerous.

Perhaps the very best change is the return of the option to pay off your last statement in full. For the last year or so they had things set up so the options when paying were: minimum amount, whole balance (including new transactions since last statement) or custom amount. To pay off your last statement in full you had to manually read off the amount and type it into the custom field. This was very cheeky of them, clearly trying to steer the punters into taking less advantage of the free credit grace period (by paying more than their last statement amount) or paying less than their last statement amount and so accruing expensive interest. I'm glad to see this cynical move has been reversed.

Summer's just beginning, so naturally Springwatch has just started on the BBC. At least that appears to be their logic. Very strange.

Update: Aha, Kate Humble admitted it today when she said "glorious summer evening". It's a scam!
For my sins I've been watching Britain's Got Talent on the tele, and I thought Susan Boyle was rubbish. Apparently I was in the minority. Her first few notes of Memory missed utterly and she was a bit reedy through most of the tricky bits. Am I the only person that finds her just plain annoying when she's not singing? Her fist-pumping, full-of-herself celebrations are very un-British and I suspect that the fickle public will turn. That said, I suppose rather sadly that it will be the newspapers that decide whether we should like or loath her, whether her start should soar or tumble. They've decided she's an angel and are unlikely to go back on their reckoning.

Update – 28th May 2009: Apparently it has begun, right on cue:

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.

It only seems like days ago that I put it up, but now the fake Xmas tree must come down again. I always dread this bit as it wrecks my hands trying to get all the fronds folded together into a streamlined torpedo of bristly green foliage. This year I fought back with heavy duty gloves!

Unfortunately I don't have any gardening gloves, what with not having a garden, so instead I made do with magic potato scrubbing gloves. I can't say I've ever used these for their intended purpose but the idea is that you wear them whilst viciously manhandling potatoes under running water and the dirt and skin just falls off. They're just as rough on the inside so it's touch and go whether it's the potato's skin or your own that sloughs off. Still, they made a fine job of the Xmas tree, whilst exfoliating my hands beautifully.


It's actually officially Xmas now, though you'd think that had been the case since early November in some shops.

So, have a happy and healthy one, and a cracking new year!

Nearly there, and dare I say I've been quite organised about it this year. Let's hope I haven't forgotten anybody.

Walked on the beach at Sandyland near Skegness today. Apart from the wind it was really quiet mild, especially for Xmas Eve Eve.

Here's a quick example of our home baking (a bit rough and ready to look at but the best mince pies I've had this year) and the tree (artificial because it fits our small space much better – real ones tend to be very broad at the base), to make you feel Xmassy.