Mrs Ermine makes a rare appearance here on Simple Living in Somerset as her normally smooth white fur was ruffled by news of national salad shortages.
The Ermine Household is far from self-sufficient, unlike back in the day when this blog was Simple Living in Suffolk and I ran The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm. Despite this, old habits die hard and we have a large vegetable garden and I forage for wild greens on a regular basis.
So these days supermarket visits are a regular event, and wandering round Tescos last week this caught my eye.
An old friend lives in an area of Spain which is well known for horticulture, including for export to the UK, so I checked in with him. Our man in Murcia reported that there are no shortages there. Of course, they may ensure local supply by slowing exports, but it did make me wonder whether the difficulties of exporting into the UK these days might not be a factor? On the BBC Radio 4 News yesterday evening it was all put down to weather conditions, but this morning’s Guardian asked the same question, “Some suppliers said potential bureaucratic hurdles meant the UK was not the first choice for hard-pressed European producers, although others said leaving the EU was not a factor in the current supply issues.”
Regardless of all that, IMHO we’re putting ourselves in a very vulnerable situation (as a nation) by being so very reliant on imports of fruit and veg which are totally out of season here, and on increasingly expensive heated domestic greenhouse production. I honestly don’t know what the policy answer to all this is. If I was the one making the decisions I’d make it a priority to have a long chat with Professor Tim Lang https://foodresearch.org.uk/publications/horticulture-in-the-uk/ before doing anything.
On a household level growing your own veg is time consuming, many people don’t have access to a garden big enough to make a difference, and it may simply not appeal… if any of these apply to you then please feel free to disregard this post and wait for the next instalment here from Mr Ermine (though he adds a post script below).
But I wonder whether some FIRE folk might not be interested to learn how Ermine Towers is weathering the current salad shortage storm, which Radio 4 reports may continue for some weeks? Over the years I’ve found a decent veg garden to be great way to guarantee a supply of really good quality, utterly fresh seasonal veg, as well as saving thousands of pounds – I once read an estimate that a well-managed allotment garden could save a few thousand a year. My allotment certainly helped me to keep my costs down early on in my career in engineering, before I ran the farm, and my times outdoors helped keep me more or less sane through it.
Right now we eat a mix of bought and home grown veg, and salads are a regular feature on the Ermine Towers menu, so the shortages simply don’t affect us at all. I wouldn’t dream of buying fresh tomatoes in February as we eat more or less seasonally, and I focus on crops we both like that require the least work for maximum yield. My ten years as a market gardener (once I’d escaped working for the man) gave me the opportunity to hone this to a fine art.
Now, in late February, I’m harvesting the last of the winter leeks along with cut-and-come-again cabbage (variety Wintergreen- I sow them in late August, overwinter them in pots outside, then plant them out around now, they last over 12 months and I will still be harvesting the ones sown in 2021 for a few more weeks, harvesting the flower shoots like sprouting broccoli before clearing the bed). A more recent addition is perennial Kale, my variety is Taunton Deane, so far it is very promising and productive. Perennial leeks are to be this year’s experiment. My sprouting broccoli isn’t doing terribly well this year after the very cold winter, there are always winners and losers every year.
Right now our salads are a mix of:
Home cooked lentils. I like the British grown green ones from Hodmedod’s – and just to prove I’m not getting a kickback, you’ll need to Google them 😉 I did meet the people who set it up ages ago and they were really inspiring, and it has been incredibly successful since then. Good for them.
A mix of seeds, again from Hodmedod’s.
One vegetable (ed: carrots) I buy organic as I am suspicious of any chemical that can bump off carrot fly. I can’t be bothered to grow them here, not least as we have clay soil which doesn’t suit them. I use a vegetable peeler to make strips of them, it is prettier.
Chopped red onion. Again, bought – they are cheap and colourful.
Home produced lacto fermented veg, currently a mix of last year’s home grown green tomatoes that weren’t going to ripen, last year’s surplus French and runner beans, and sauerkraut made from shop bought red and white cabbage. There is a lot of song and dance about how complicated it is to make home fermented veg – it isn’t. It is cheap and easy, I wouldn’t bother otherwise. It is also incredibly good for you. I store it in sealed jars in big plastic storage boxes buried in the garden to keep them cool.
Mixed home grown, and foraged, salad leaves. The ones from the garden right now include claytonia and red veined sorrel from the greenhouse, broad bean leaves, dandelions, & cleavers: the mix varies through the year. I find most shop bought salad leaves insipid and stale – I’m convinced that home grown and foraged greens contain considerably more nutrients than most shop bought salads.
Our salads are cheap, good for us, and Mr Ermine, while not a huge fan of salad, admits they do “taste of something” unlike those in (most) restaurants.
It does take effort to do all this, a few hours a week, but I enjoy it for the most part and regard it as a way to improve our health and quality of life without spending a fortune. Audiobooks transform the experience, when I first started gardening I used a Sony Walkman (remember those?!) to play books from the library. If you’re interested in these gardening ideas, please do bear in mind that the UK climate is quite specific and odd: our growing season is short and the light levels are quite low despite fairly mild temperatures thanks to the Gulf Stream. So what works here in the South West of England may not work elsewhere, even in the North of the UK… but it is all about experimentation and asking local gardeners what does work, then taking what they say with a pinch of salt, everyone has a strong opinion when it comes to gardening, and there is rarely a consensus. A bit like the situation surrounding Brexit, but that is another story.
Welcome to the Brexit, sir
We were indulging in some decadence on the south coast today, fish and chips with a glass of rose and a view over the English Channel.
Which meant I missed DPD’s attempt to deliver a secondhand camera lens. DPD only attempt one delivery, then deliver it three miles up the road, to a Sainsburys concession outlet. I wanted to get to play with the new toy. And take the chance to substantiate this scurrilous rumour that Blighty is running low on toms and veg.
Seems a fair cop. There’s a Lidl nearby, so it’s time to load up on beer, and have a reccy on the presence of green things
On the upside, they had beer.
As the friendly Dutchman said, welcome to the Brexit, sir. A smaller market will experience more variability in supply. It’s not impossible to imagine better solutions within Brexit, but it takes strategic thinking and money, which seem in short supply with the crew that Got Brexit Done. I’m not even of the view it will take Jake’s 50 years. What is does need, is grit, determination and some attention to detail. Let’s take a look back in time.
As a child in London over fifty years ago, I recall there being some market gardens in the city1, as well as around it. There were many more allotments then, and even in the working-class area of London, New Cross where I grew up, many houses had respectable gardens. My Dad used to grow onions in the garden, I’m sure he grew other things as well but it’s a long time ago. These terraced houses had alternating apple and pear trees, on the assumption neighbours would swap. We had an apple tree.
Observant fellows will note that was before Britain joined the Common Market in 1972, we should note that times were very different. Once a week ISTR I would go along with my mother dragging a shopping trolley the two miles to Lewisham , and she would buy veg at the market stalls that used to line Lewisham High Street. Google tells me there is again a Lewisham open market there. We did not have a car 2, although we would walk there sometimes we would get the No 21 bus back to New Cross if we had bought something like spuds. It took some doing to heft a loaded shopping trolley up onto the open platform of a routemaster double-decker, I think you could stow it in a cubbyhole under the stairs, next to the platform.
Much of this fruit and veg, though not things like oranges and bananas, was grown in Kent though some was grown in the city. People didn’t buy veg from supermarkets then, they were much smaller than now and a much smaller range, mainly focusing of dry goods and non-fresh stuff. Few people had freezers then – our fridge had one star, where at best you could keep ice-cream where the ice cube tray went, and even then it would start to lose the fight after a few hours.
We can’t replicate that world. Housing is very different. Jobs are very different. Families are very different. But we could probably find a better way to grow our food, and perhaps not be such punks as to demand strawberries and tomatoes in February. Working a little bit more with the grain of the seasons might reduce those energy bills farmers are grousing about. But until we apply ourselves to making a better fist of this we will have empty shelves more often.
The vast majority of veg was grown outside of London, and interchanged in the early hours of the morning at Covent Garden market. Kent used to be the Garden of England due to its proximity to the Great Wen and its southerly location with a warmer climate ↩
Although some readers may jump to the conclusion we were living under the railway arches poor not having a car, it wasn’t that unusual in the 1960s – it took until the 1970s for half of British households to own a car ↩
It’s clearly going to be a big issue for a lot of people. Something that puzzles me about this is that I recall power prices being pretty damn high in the past, and my recollection of current (post April, pre-end of this month) power prices is that I have seen this movie before. I remember power costs being high in the early to mid-2010s in real terms, it felt like they were higher. Some of this is because that was a period when I was trying to save money, firstly to load enough into the stock market to retire early, and secondly once I had retired to eke out the period before getting hold of my SIPP savings for as long as possible. However, I wasn’t shocked by the March changes, because I remember real prices being higher.
Undoubtedly projected costs are going to be higher in real terms than they were before, after all going to war generally damages the economy, plus there is the cleverness of Brexit, which seems to be dragging its feet on delivering the promise of making us all so much better off. In an attempt to substantiate this recollection, I inquired of the ONS, which sadly only goes back to 2015, with something called the energy price index.
Turns out gas is currently (up to the end of this month) still cheaper per unit than it was in 2015, in real terms. The dotted line is when the price cap mechanism was instigated. It is electricity that is much dearer than it used to be per unit.
This is deliberate – most of the green crap has been loaded on the cost of electricity. You are paying for other people’s solar panels (thankfully the subsidy on that has been dramatically reduced – if you think solar panels on a domestic basis is such a terrific idea then pay for this frippery yourself). I hate green crap subsidies with a rabid vengeance, because I don’t want to pay for middle-class homeowners’ virtue signalling. I have nothing against renewables – I invest in wind, solar and power storage, as well as oil, because I am shameless, but I think poncing about on a domestic level is bonkers. As David Kay says, every big helps.
Making the poor pay more for their power just so you can tell your middle-class rugrats that you are doing your bit is really rather ethically dubious. That is because ever since Thatcher raising income tax has become anathema, so these subsidies come from indirect taxation, raising other people’s electricity bills by 25%. Britain generates much of its electricity using gas, so there’s no good reason for the divergence between electricity and gas unit prices, this is the extra loading on electricity because it’s harder to live without electricity than gas, plus many households don’t have mains gas.
There’s an argument than I can afford to subsidise your green tossery, but I don’t want to. However, I can’t fight Government policy. I collect my share of my and other people’s bills via the renewables inducements to UKW and its ilk rather than on an itty-bitty scale, repossessing the subsidy loading on my power bills through the stock market, but it’s still a rum way to do policy. Resistance is futile, you have to join in. Unlike middle class eco-warriors limited by their south-facing roof area and domestic consumption, I can collect far more subsidy that I could on my own consumption. Your average solar installation costs £5-7k, you can invest a lot more than that if you are minded to.
IMO the reason there is more hullabaloo about heating costs now than seven years ago is because government policy has been immiserating the poor through a punitive approach to benefits on the bottom end. Higher power costs makes more difference now, because it’s a larger part of a smaller available income pie at the low end. And, quite frankly, it seems that the current wannabees don’t giveashit, and in 2019 it was clearly more important to more people to have some grandstanding and Get Brexit Done by an established liar than give a shit too. We are where we are because we wanted to believe in magic. Were you asked by the grandstander in chief whether power bills of £6000 p.a. were a price worth paying to stop Putin’s tanks? Me neither.
Under Johnson, the UK also appears to have taken a gamble on an almost complete break with Russia, at least so long as Vladimir Putin remains in power. There is nothing from London, as there is from Berlin and Paris, about keeping channels open to Russia, because Russia will still be there when the war is over.
Comparing the costs of Russia’s war, he said: “If we’re paying in our energy bills for the evils of Vladimir Putin, the people of Ukraine are paying in their blood.”
Neatly making this issue the next PMs problem. Never one to stick around and pick up the pieces, our Bozza, or to answer awkward questions. Contrast BoJo’s apparent inspiration, who had the cojones to front up the cost of war in his first address to Parliament
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
while observing sotto voce to his generals
Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time.
Not quite the same as have your cake and eat it, eh? Sometimes you do have to experience privation to defend something more important, but Putin isn’t shit for brains, and he is no doubt counting on resolve withering somewhat. General Winter has fought on the Russian side before, against Napoleon and Hitler, and now Putin is hoping he will fight against the decadent and softness of the West, even if they aren’t physically marching on Moscow. I don’t really know where I’d place my bets.
Given the level of inflation I am happy to take my chances in the stock markets on energy to defray the extra costs, though I am glad I made most of my push before July, I’m not able to work out if the bonkers mini-rally is in fact the £ falling down the toilet or the return of irrational exuberance. Perhaps it is the froth blowing off the top before the monster that has been rising from the deep finally breaks the surface.
We are a movement against the rise in energy bills
Yeah, I take a principled position against poverty, war, dogshit in cities, and all sorts of things I don’t like. Doesn’t mean to say they don’t happen. You may as well be against the sun rising. Magical thinking at it’s best. Martin Lewis doesn’t officially approve.
Readers of this probably have too much to lose with don’t pay. It is surprising to me that suppliers are obligated not to pull the plug on non-payers, previous generations didn’t have such scruples 😉 However, they can send the heavies round.
More practically, you can try and use less. This is another example of the Sam Vimes Boots theory of socieoconomics, because the options open to homeowners, including those who don’t actually own their house but have a mortgage, are far wider than those who rent.
I managed to reduce my electricity consumption by 20%, and given the loading on electricity that punches well above its weight. It’s the financial equivalent of reducing gas consumption by ~40%, which would be a very noticeable detriment to lifestyle in winter and much harder to do.
The big picture
Most of the wins in domestic settings are to do with anything that is designed to change temperature. If you run an industrial process involving big changes in temperature, like a bakery or a cement works, then you are out of luck, because your product is about to get a lot dearer into a market that has less disposable income and you aren’t protected by the energy cap. I have no idea what to do about that, but at home you have options.
In general drive down waste before making any capex. In the UK that means loft insulation and draughtproofing. The good news is that the materials are relatively cheap and this is an entirely unskilled DIY job that any reasonably able person can do. It’s an unpleasant job – fibreglass insulation is irritating to handle and work with, though it has the advantage of not catching fire and apparently not being particularly attractive as rat nesting material. You can use other materials, mainly made out of plastic, but remember a lot of wiring is up there and plastic fumes are nasty 😉 This used to be subsidised, I recall paying less than £2 a 5m roll when I last did that job in the old house, but these days it looks like B&Q will hit you up for £25 a roll, which bites. It’s not the greatest fun you will have of a weekend, but apart from a large crawlboard and a big pair of scissors there’s no specialised equipment or hard to learn skills. JFDI
If you have cavity walls and for some bizarre reason there is no insulation in the cavity then that’s the next step, though it is a professional job it will pay a return in a reasonable time. Double glazing which also addresses most draughtproofing is another professional install that has a reasonable payback, after that you are in the wilderness, because insulation gets difficult for solid walls, it’s probably easier to move 😉
The next thing to understand is that the unit price on electricity is much higher than that of gas. So focus on anything that reduces electricity consumption, and favour heating with gas. If you heat with gas, you will use more energy in kWh, because heating is the biggest annualised load, but you may pay more for electricity. As an example, over the last year I used half the energy kWh in electricity as I did in the kWh form of gas, but paid twice as much for that electricity, near enough. Before Putin’s antics I investigated the feasibility of generating electrical power with gas as well as considering changing over to cooking with gas, basically to cut off the government-attached hangers-on. I concluded the risk wasn’t worth the reward, but it would have paid back in the medium term, given the boundary conditions at the time 😉 The antithesis of that is, of course, the heat pump, which does a heating job using electricity that can perfectly well be done with gas.
Heat pumps? Eh?
In order to save 75% of electricity energy that costs three times as much you get to make a big capital expenditure and change your radiators. On the upside, in some rare cases1 you may get air conditioning, and of course the warm fuzzy feeling of being a greenie doing your bit. On the downside, that 75% efficiency doesn’t hold at the coldest time, you’re paying three times as much for the energy and you are potentially carrying a lot of poor people’s bills on your back. I could see the sense if you used bottle gas or oil for heating, but against mains gas this sucks. Electricity is a highly concentrated form of energy and is best used for what it does well.
I struggle to see heating as falling into that category, in a country that generates a third of its electricity using gas, losing 50% (roughly estimated from the heat -> mechanical power of the steam turbine and distribution losses) of the calorific value in the process it seems a little bit mad, though I can see that some things may make sense in where we want to be in future. But don’t be an early adopter unless you have a specific reason to carry the baggage. Not all countries have this disparate taxation in electricity and gas costs, a heat pump may be a perfectly reasonable proposition under a different cost regime or generation mix. If you don’t believe me, take a look at what Her Majesty’s Government have to say under five reasons to get a heat pump
Moving to a heat pump means you can avoid the volatile prices associated with gas and oil. If you are using oil, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or electric heating, you could see a reduction to your energy bill if you move to a heat pump.
They are very careful to avoid saying you can save running costs compared to mains gas, because it’s not true in the UK 😉
There is one specific exception to heat with gas. Even if you have a gas cooker, use an electric kettle for your tea, because the close coupling of the heating element with the water, and, with a glass or plastic electric kettle, the better insulation, all tend to beat out the losses to the air, heating up the metal gas kettle notwithstanding the gas energy cost advantage of a third of electricity.
An Ermine’s journey to reducing electricity consumption
Not everybody in the US is that profligate. Mr Money Mustache has got his power drain down to 300kWh a month, which is about the same as mine, though I note he doesn’t mention cooking, and the furnace blower (as opposed to the furnace4 itself) as an itemised load implies to me that he heats with something other than electricity; if it’s gas I presume he cooks with that rather than electricity. In a followup in 2015, MMM says he used 2MWh over 15 months, coming out at 133 kWh pcm. That is less than half my power drain, and a serious source of embarrassment to the Ermine fur. It should be noted that I cook with electricity, so some of the difference is due to that.
MMM’s followup is more succinct than this ramble. This is more a walk-through of my journey, which may help walk some folk through what you need to do. Go to MMM for the short-form version 😉 I worked as an electronics engineer for a couple of decades before moving to IT. Although electrical engineering is a different discipline, the electronics background has many of the concepts in common. Everybody’s energy usage is different, but so far I managed to reduce my electricity usage by 20%, and I haven’t finished the job yet.
You have to be able to see what you are doing – knowledge is power
I commissioned an efergy engage whole house system, reusing some components from my old Efergy elite monitor5, that died of causes unknown but wasn’t obviously fixable when I took it apart.
I loathe software as a service and subscriptions with a vengeance, but sucked it up in this case because the price of entry is the hardware rather than a subscription, and in the end this is a service I can live without OK if efergy does bust or decide to do a hive. Some folk will say why not just take a smart meter, but with my old-skool rotating disc meter they will have to bash on the door and look me in the eye to cut me off, rather than some oik in a call centre going clickety-clack. That’s worth paying £70 to do the smart monitoring job myself. If they teach me how to save £70 worth of power by the time Efergy goes titsup then I am in the black, power saving is a gift that keeps on giving. If you do have a smart meter, knock yourself out and save £70 if it offers you the charting thing with a resolution down to 1 minute.
Go for the big wins first – anything that heats
I installed Efergy early in March. And got to see this
The second ratty lump at 6pm around 2.5kW is roasting a chicken in the old electric cooker. But look at the shower hit in the morning, oy vey. Now this sort of monitor needs to have a decent time resolution, arguably that was something the old Efergy Elite Adobe Air software didn’t offer. A stupendous load of 10kW needs a finer time resolution than the oven at 2.5kW, because it matters four times as much. In many ways the summarised kWh split by hour display is more useful to me.
Which shows the shower takes about 2.1kWh, whereas the roast chicken takes 4.78kWh. The difference is, however, that we roast a chicken once a week, not every day. Having the oven on at 200 for an hour and a half is a shade over twice as much energy consumption6 as the shower. And it’s pretty obvious that roasting a chicken is going to take a shedload of power, because the kitchen gets warmer. In March that’s not such a terrible thing, though in a July heatwave not so much. So guess what, we didn’t use the oven in the heatwave. Simples.
I switched back to the gravity-fed shower, heated by gas. This will mean using a little more gas, particularly as I don’t have an instant-on boiler.
March is a little bit short (because Efergy wasn’t tracking through the whole month) but April is representative of previous months on the old Efergy system, so pulling the shower saves me 26 kWh a month. Assuming this holds across the year that is £88 (at 0.283 p/kWh), which isn’t bad for an hour’s work with a spanner and a capex of 50 sods for a new showerhead and hose. The cost recovery time will be shorter if the price cap raises electricity prices again at the end of this month, which seems to be expected. It will be offset by the gas consumption going up a little. I will look for that on a year on year basis.
The next upgrade was to get a modern cooker with an induction hob, rather than this old-skool sort of hob element.
Photo copied off some auction site, it’s not my old cooker. You need to book a temperature change two minutes before wanting it, usability sucks.
Mrs Ermine uses an antediluvian piece of kit called a Moka pot that makes coffee which can do double duty as battery acid, and this involved heating up the old hob and filling the chamber with boiling water from the kettle, then waiting for it all to rise with a menacing sound. A barbarian way of making really harsh coffee IMO, but each to their own.
The classic Italian Moka pot design is an aluminium casting which isn’t going to work on an induction hob but Mrs Ermine had a purge on aluminium cooking equipment a few years ago, so her Moka pot was induction capable from the get go.
Efergy told me in early April with the old cooker doing this with kettle plus hob rocks in at about 1kWh, though I should knock off the static load which was 0.28kWh just before. That now shows at maybe 0.6, less again nearly .3 static. There’s no need to boil the kettle first, and overall the coffee happens much faster, as the induction hob heats the metal in this thing directly. The same applies with pretty much everything – the power control on an induction hob is much closer to the response time of gas. Usability is greater, and efficiency improved, because you don’t have to heat up a great big lump of steel hotplate. The induction process heats the pan, standing on a ceramic insulating surface, so the lag is the same as gas, which also heats the pan in an insulating medium (air).
How does that do with the chicken? This is an electric fan oven, but it is the same basic tech as the old cooker – resistive elements in some ceramic thing on the sides and a blower fan to circulate the air. However, in an electric oven you can gain efficiency by sealing the container better.
Comparing this against the old oven, bearing in mind it looks more dramatic because the mahoosive heave-ho of the shower is absent in the morning and the chart auto scales, there’s more wait in the heat up, wait, heat, wait, heat. The peaks after 19:00 are the dishwasher. Apart from the peak load being lower, looking at the corresponding hour block chart the total used to roast a chicken is 2.44kWh, half the previous amount and a shade over the erstwhile shower. This isn’t surprising, since the kitchen gets less warm, and indeed when you open up the oven to baste the chicken or finish up, you get a serious faceful of uncomfortably hot air that steams up your glasses, and I have become used to opening the door and leaning away to let that rise. This translates to more efficiency through not letting the heat out into the kitchen for most of the 90 minutes or so. Continue reading “Saving energy at home”
For some light relief as to the recent theatrics, let’s take stock. There seem to be several things not going entirely as expected or planned, and they are a little bit more than down to the antics of one man. Even if his name is Vladimir Putin…
I was listening to a couple of punters bemoaning the energy crisis and saying that the Government really should do something about this, to which the obvious question is, how do they go about doing that?
Energy is pretty much about oil and gas at this stage. You may not like that very much, but let’s start with where we are. If you look at a list of oil producers in the world, the top five in 2021 are the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, in that order. The first three are the big hitters, responsible for about 30 billion barrels a day, and Russia and the US are about neck and neck at ~10bbl/day. Slightly ominously, they say of the top three “since 2014 all three have been producing near their peak rates of 9 to 11 million barrels per day” and Russia and Saudi are the top exporters. We have decided to stand with Ukraine, so that’s the second largest exporter we have declared persona non grata.
What do we use for energy? Fossil fuels, bar the shouting…
If you look at the UK’s energy mix, it is three-quarters oil and natural gas combined, in about equal portions. So even if we did have a disciplined functioning government that hadn’t had enough of experts, there’s a serious limit to what can be done. I’m not taking an opinion here about the virtue of standing with Ukraine – history does show that it is sometimes necessary to tolerate privation in the interests of a wider goal, but if you want to know why energy costs are rising, well removing a large source of supply for what is basically an imported product will tend to push the price up.
Vlad the bad has played a good hand
I’m not a Putinversteher, IMO he’s is a psychopathic nutcase who is mad a box of frogs, just not randomly mad. He’s sitting on a massive resource that people want – gas and oil, and our Vlad has spent most of his life understanding power. If you are going to have enemies, it pays not to underestimate them. Sure, Putin and/or his military ballsed up some of the initial parts of their invasion, but they seem to be learning from their mistakes. I am not saying this is a good thing in the round, but it is good for Putin and his aims. Putin is right in one respect, in that the much vaunted Western sanctions are a weapon that fires on both ends. In raising the price of energy by restricting sources of supply, Putin doesn’t have to sell as much to raise the same revenue. Well done us. Perhaps there was no other way, but strangulating his cash base only works if the West was like it was before the Millennium, a much larger part of the world economy. The world is multipolar now. Sanctions may have other effects in the longer run, but it’s not a quick win, and energy prices will be higher for a fair while as a direct result. It is interesting that 50 years ago this was predicted. Not in the Nostradamus sense of
Two great men yet brothers not make the north united stand
Its power be seen to grow, and fear possess the eastern lands
which is just as well, because the West is short of great men, we seem to be scraping the barrel of late. More in the sense of Asimov’s Foundation, with the role of the Second Foundation played by the 50 year old Club of Rome Limits to Growth crew. A couple of recent updates comparing the track we are on shows the future not being terribly rosy even with everybody’s high-tech dreams coming good.
on the left is the high-tech dreams of Wired magazine – even with that industrial output doesn’t continue rising on the trend of up to now. If we look at extracted resources specifically
there is some evidence we are more high-tech than BAU. So that’s all right then? Well, Gaya Herrington tells us a little bit about the world your children will be growing up in
CT represents the technologist’s belief in humanity’s ability to innovate out of environmental constraints. It assumes unprecedented technological innovation in a world that otherwise does not change its priorities much. The new technologies do in fact help avoid an outright collapse. However, CT still depicts some declines (Figure 3) because the technology costs become so high that not enough resources are left for agricultural production and health and education services.
There was a nice little radio play about the preparation of the original model, still on BBC sounds
Back to our dictator, who is perhaps a symptom how the LtG model is playing out. Like Asimov’s psychohistory, they did not claim to foresee the individual track the future plays out, just the broad sweep of history rattling in the channel of the available resources. The resource curse means that petro-states tend to be unsavoury, and in the past perhaps we could afford to be precious about our values. These days there is more realism, yes Saudi Arabia did most likely top that Khashoggi bloke but we want their oil so perhaps we need to STFU about that sort of thing.
Putin has willing customers for his oil, which is more transportable than gas due to its value by volume. India seems to taking up a fair amount of Russian oil and China will take some of the gas off Putin’s hands. The leverage of gas is very high because of the same thing – it’s hard to reroute supply for producer and consumer alike. Germany has made itself exceptionally exposed to Russian supplies through Ostpolitik, combined with a historical anti-nuclear stance.
There’s a cost to Atomkraft, Nein Danke, and the bill has just landed on the doormat with a Cyrillic stamp that says hefty fee to pay, our product our rules. It’s understandable for the country that anticipated invasion through the Fulda Gap for years to try and play nice with the big bad bear, but there’s a cost to singing Kumbaya like that, in the end you get to rely on Russian gas. As the old saying goes “When you have them by the balls, hearts and minds will follow”. It could be a long winter, and Germany is already rationing gas.
Before we think stupid Germans, I suspect we will see energy rationing this winter. Germany has relatively deep pockets and will drive up the price of gas from other sources. You just can’t knock out a leading supplier of energy and carry on as normal. Italy seems quite exposed too, so perhaps we will see another Euro crisis. I don’t know how Greece will fare…
The Ermine as a nipper can remember Britain before central heating became widespread in the 1970s. Insulate Britain is wrong – British houses in the 1960s were far less insulated than now, they were draughty and often heated with coal fires, which needed a decent airflow from outside to get enough draw. People generally heated only one room – the one with the fire in it. If you wanted to heat another room you got to do that with open bar electric fires, or the sort you wouldn’t be allowed to even think of now. A mustelid kit learned something interesting about the power of electricity with a screwdriver and one of those.
People got cold. Ice would appear on the inside of the single glazed window panes. People survived. They used coats, jumpers, blankets, tea and hot water bottles. That is how we will deal with less energy. We aren’t going to ponce about insulating the bejesus out of homes that serviceably sheltered earlier, hardier generations and were never designed for insulation. They worked OK then. They will serve people again.
Thus quoth ZXSpectrum48k, over on Monevator. From a fellow who does this as a day job, looking at the legions of wannabe escapees from the office
Socrates was the counterfactual, though he defined the Dunning-Kruger problem in his first sentence.
for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know
Or Plato talking about Socrates. whatever, there still be truth in it
It is part of the way of the world – the young fellow must be ignorant to his faults to make his way in the world and try and put his ding in the universe. ZX was also talking of the younger ermine, and probably even of me now, after all, how would I know 😉
In it, TA postulates saving ten years worth of cash, to bridge your spending over 10 years between retiring early (the RE part of FIRE), and reaching 57, the earliest point the Agglomerator, hero of his journey, gets to access their tax-privileged pension savings (SIPP). I confess I haven’t studied his derivation of that requirement, but I was only a little bit older than his putative future Millennial when I packed in work, I was very early fifties whereas Agglomerator wants to clear the workforce at 46.
Let’s just zoom out a little and put that into perspective, the Agglomerator enters the workforce at 21 on leaving university, and clears it at 46, so he works for 25 years. In that 25 years, somehow he saves 10 years of spending as cash and about twice that much in tax-privileged accounts to see him out. That looks like a massive ask to me, saving effectively 30 years of essential spend1 along with buying a house outright and establishing himself.
Today’s FIRE community is very different from that 10 years ago
For a start, fat FIRE is a much bigger thing than it was in the past. When I started it was about frugality first
there are only 5/13 left standing (I haven’t counted those that haven’t been updated for over a year). It shows how different the world is now that it was just over ten years ago when I started down the FI/RE track. It was about saving and frugality.
Why was this – it was just after the GFC, people didn’t really believe the stock market would come good. Apart from Monevator, who sounded the clarion call into the low-water mark – git your ass into this market- NOW. However, valuations were such that you could get a decent return on shovelling money into that market. Although you were never going to retire early making minimum wage, you didn’t need the fancy City finance pay packet.
Today’s FIRE community is much, much richer than that of ten years ago. Some of that reflects these high valuations – if you want to accumulate enough to retire early now it’s a much tougher job. A safe withdrawal rate of 5% was conceivable in 2009, it’s much lower now, simply because valuations are higher. You need to be working in finance to get enough. There’s much more emphasis on fat FIRE now – starting off with a lot more, and spending at much higher levels. The frugalistas have been run out of town.
If you’re starting out, that’s not so bad, I have the suspicion that valuations will become more reasonable2 in the not too distant future, you need to keep buying into it. You have three decades.
But if you need to make it all happen in five years starting yesterday, then it’s going to be tough sledding. And I would imagine that a lot of getting-on-for-fifty-somethings are going to find themselves heading towards early retirement this year and next.
Talking of padawan, bless my younger self’s cotton socks, I thought I would have edge in sectors. Then I chased the HYP, is some ways because after a GFC yield was easy to find. Dunning and Kruger would be proud of me. I did do well. But not for the reasons I believed. I have no particular edge is stockpicking. But I was next to an open goal. Truth be told it didn’t really matter what you bought at that time. Valuations were in the dumps. My big win was to buy anything. I would probably have done better buying VWRL, except it didn’t exist in 2009 and before the RDR there were all sorts of dodgy practices to do with funds and backhanders. I was weak on the US market, which has been on a tear for most of that time. But I bought in at a low, and while I would have been better off buying a broad index, getting the timing right trumped sector allocation.
It’s not what I bought, it was when I bought – at low valuations. The rest of the journey was slowly coming to the conclusion that I am still a padawan, though not hopelessly so. I did OK, such that now, marked to market at high valuations (now) I have more capital than market to market at low valuations (the GFC) despite living off investment return over the last 8 years.
TA’s article says I was nuts. I agree, if I were starting now being balls-deep in equities other than three years’ essential spend would be crazy. It was less nuts starting from low valuations, because it is the truth that passivistas never allow to be heard – valuation matters, and the other name for that is market timing 😉 . But Dunning-Kruger probably would have the last laugh, because if TA went back in time to the younger Ermine and said ‘my crystal ball tells me you have to have enough cash to carry you for the next 8 years, what do you know that I don’t?‘ I am not sure that the younger ermine would have puffed up his furry chest and say ‘traveller from the future, valuations are historically low now, so the risk is much lower than it will be in your time.‘ TA wasn’t there, though Monevator said pretty much that at the time in his if not now, when?
A tale of desperation against logic
We are all, of course, the hero of our own narrative. Using the flight analogy from a few weeks ago, I ready myself for the eight lean years in a flimsy craft, refuelling and seeing fire streaking across the runway behind. I am faced with the choice of wealth or health, and choose health. TA would not have cleared me for take-off, I did not have eight years cash saved, I did not have enough to bridge the gap. But enough to be prepared to take the chance. Against the backdrop of the GFC, the increasing value of the shareholdings stiffened the spine enough that I felt I could make it, though I did have to experience the lean years, particularly at the beginning. But in the years after the GFC, many people were skint. The ask is much, much higher now.
Look at the sedate trajectory On the one hand they’re expecting to write lots of letters to the Chancellor on how they cocked up bringing inflation down to 2%, indeed this will be a regular event for the rest of my lifetime. The Bank of England has a lot of finance bods much smarter than me, and I am sure that they will say well, hey, this is what is implied by the yield curves, it’s not our opinion. Sort of like a variant on guns don’t kill people, people do. Nothing to do with us, guv, it’s wot the market numbers say.
All over the decadent demise of the Western world there is this refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions in favour of magical thinking. I’m all for magical thinking, but in that case let’s have some magic back, eh, rather than pretending we’re all materialist rationalists. Smells and bells, please. At least some of the ride will be more fun. Meanwhile
it looks not so different from the B of E’s prognostications, if we stick to the last 40 years. We have to go back nearly 30 years to the last time it was over 5%. Case proven, m’lud. Along with history, inflation has ended. Obviously you need some inflation, else capital will sit back on its lardy butt rather than get out into the world making good stuff happen in theory, but we’re sorted as far as inflation taking off. Hmm. In other news
We seem to be suffering a general competence deficit
We seem to be suffering a major competence deficit these days. In the battle between ability and craftiness, everyone seems to be losing their grip. The malefic Dominic Cummings seems to losing his mojo – starry-eyed for Big Data, his feet of clay show when it comes to hiring people to do anything with it. Obviously you ask your mates first, because, well, corrupt bastards are like that. He’s of the view that leadership in politics requires a science degree, but his own ancient and modern history degree from Oxford clearly failed him in his/our hour of need. He’s unable to find competence in handling data.
If the answer to your data processing job is Excel, the question is wrong
Back in the day, the Ermine was chatting to the guy at the next desk, who was tasked with keeping records of set-top boxes. Now I had an electronics, not software background, but he was planning on keeping this in Microsoft Excel. “Your problem there,” opined the Ermine, “is that you can’t do ‘owt with the data. What you need is a database”. This guy was going to try and search for repeating faults and that sort of jazz. Now you can do that is Excel, but it’s a bit like Samuel Johnson’s quip about a dog waking on its hind legs, it’s not so much that it’s done well, it is that it’s possible at all. It grinds to ever slower after about a thousand records – I discovered this the hard way when running the records of a club that had about 1500 members at its high water point. I switched to Access3 after about 500 members.
The trouble is everybody can understand Excel, whereas getting your data into a database is a different level of abstraction. Even in DOS days, dBaseIV had the edge on Lotus 123, though wrangling the forms to make it work was a nightmare.
Excel just isn’t designed to handle huge amounts of data – wrong tool, wrong job. This fellow might have had a hundred thousand set-top box ids, and Excel was only good for 65535 rows back then. You don’t use Excel for massive lots of data. I’d get off that wagon at more than 5000 data points, so you don’t use Excel for tracking your set-top boxes. Or your coronavirus victims…
Now in fairness to our Dom, he’s busy getting his mates to do his data munging, falling for the old saw of anonymised data. The trouble with AI and Big Data in particular is that the aim is to de-anonymise everything. AI looks intelligent because it cross-correlates everything, at scale. The public data Dom’s giving his buddies may well be anonymised on its own, but when combined with other data the keys to the kingdom often show up.
Now is the winter of our discontent[…]
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
This lot seem to have skipped a few lines of Richard III, and gone straight on to the doing evil. The thing that’s saving the rest of us is the competence deficit – in driving out Brexit non-believers, they seem to also have driven out anybody who can spot a bad idea miles away. Or indeed anybody who’s got a clue. Funny old thing, that… Correlation is not causation, eh, Dom?
Brexit zealotry doesn’t seem to correlate with competence
Perhaps driving out those who had a clue was the point – disaster capitalism unfolding before our eyes. Never let a good crisis go to waste and all that. Perhaps it has to be the way- you need moronic slavishness to the Brexit Ideal to Get Brexit Done, and perhaps afterwards we can engage people who understand the art of compromise. A little bit of that on t’other side wouldn’t go amiss, either, but we have to stick with what we can change…
I’m sure we will trade with other people after Brexit. But let’s get some people who can talk in a civilised manner to others, eh, rather than yelling we have the sovereign right to do exactly as we damn well please, and thanks for all the fish. That’s an awful long way towards the Juche doctrine of North Korea, and I suggest Brits are a little bit too soft and used to their creature comforts to want to pay that sort of price for absolute sovereignty, regardless of what Jacob Rees-Mogg and his disaster capitalism compadres in the European Research Group have to say about vassal states.
I am old enough to just remember 1973. Britain was a lot more self-sufficient in many things then, like food and cars for instance, than it is now. We weren’t that good at a lot of this, which was roughly why we signed up to the Common Market as it was then – we were the sick man of Europe, economically speaking. However, the issues raised by James Goldsmith of the Referendum Party weren’t ever addressed with Maastricht. Brexit will definitely fix those. A little bit like burning the house down fixes bad wallpaper, but some non-ERG eyes can probably make Brexit work right after a few years. Britain’s economy did sort of work before 1973, and hopefully we have all learned something in the intervening 47 years. Just for God’s sake keep the British Eton-educated whazzocks away from leadership of our companies, particularly any that make cars, it took foreign management to make Britain’s car factories make cars that were worth buying…
work is not the route out of poverty for the ability-challenged or those with more children than skill
I confess I will struggle to drum up sympathy for the Red Wall if they find they are vassals to British plutocrats rather than EU technocrats. True, they weren’t to know of the coronavirus pandemic, but the deep compassion for those who fall on hard times of the crew that they voted in to Get Brexit Done has been hidden in plain sight for a very long time.
I still remember the relatively benign version of that looking for my first job nearly 40 years ago, it scared the hell enough out of me to never take any time between jobs until I packed work in for the last time. The experience of being unemployed in Britain doesn’t seem to have improved between Margaret Thatcher and the punitive and nasty Universal Credit.
Personalised, like the red dot from a rifle. The personal adviser will be targeted to make your life miserable. If you want to cop a feel of the quality of the personalised advice, knock yourself out on the gov.uk careers advice beta to gauge the accuracy.In the case of the Ermine, that’ll be
Because there is a fundamental truth here. Britain is a rich, First World country. That means the cost of living is higher here than in many other places.
Sadly, Brits are not, on average, cleverer than other people. We’re average. Quelle surprise, eh? As a result, the sort of jobs available in the UK that pay enough to live on need to demand a higher level of skill than the global average, and the bar is increasing all the time4. Because: globalisation. If you thought Brexit is going to fix globalisation, then you should have been more careful about the people you gave the keys to.
Elementary logic shows that the result of increasing skill requirements is that fewer and fewer people will be able to earn enough for the average cost of living. Some of them won’t be bright enough. Some of them will have had children too early in life, or split up with the other party involved. That means you won’t have enough time to get a full-time job. As a society while we mouth platitudes about wanting to make up the difference, by our actions we clearly don’t care that much to be prepared to carry your choices for years and years.
We have hidden this in the past by increasing the number of shit jobs in the economy, things that should have been done by machine or not done at all, and priced these at minimum wage. It is one of the reasons why productivity has gone down the toilet in the UK since the credit crunch. For contrast, I started work when this was about 55 on that scale, and left when it was about 95. Britain got better off while I was at work – not due to me I hasten to add. You need an increase in productivity to address poverty. There has to be more shit to go around per head for the country as a whole to get better off – it is a necessary but not sufficient condition.
There’s only so far this can go. Another way we are hiding this is to create a punitive DWP system for the un(der)employed called Universal Credit, employ young graduates who can read and write to be mean to people who perhaps have literacy issues or generally can’t stand filling in forms. We incentivise the graduates to disenfrachise as many of their ‘clients’ as possible so that they keep their sort-of middle-class jobs, while making it all look like the clients’ fault that they don’t have the natural ability to get/hold a job that pays enough to live on.
Let’s not even start on what we do to the physically and mentally ill, eh? We just don’t care. Oh and then we wring our hands about the amount of homelessness.
Now I’m not saying I am clever enough to know the solution to this problem, but I have learned over several decades is that whistling a tune and repeating inappropriate platitudes like ‘work is the route out of poverty’ isn’t the way to fix the problem. It would be more honest simply to tell some of the people with insufficient skills or chaotic lifestyle choices that there is nothing we are prepared to do for you. Work is not the route out of poverty, for the simple reason that the cost of living is too high in Britain to keep a roof over your head on anything less than the full-time minimum wage, and there are too many people in the UK who don’t have enough aptitude to add enough value to something to even justify the minimum wage.
Some people are seriously short of basic life skills, like recognising food 😉
Ceci n’est pas food
Microsoft offered me this picture of a field of Halloween pumpkins in some American field. It’s a little bit weird, a tad Magritte, IMO. How do I know it’s American – there are no trees, hedgerows, we don’t have one-armed pylons unless there’s a really good reason and we don’t run our railway tracks with no guarding, and I don’t think I’ve seen boxcars like that.
However, it’s in keeping – Halloween never used to be a retail-fest or even A Big Thing until about 30 years ago, and it’s been pushed like hell, imported from Over There. It’s still rather disturbing that a significant proportion of British parents were presumably raised by wolves themselves in being unaware that you can eat what’s inside pumpkins5. Although I had no idea how they grew, I was aware of this by the time I left home, though it wasn’t particularly useful information as Halloween wasn’t a big thing, and I am child-free anyway 😉
However, I am with hubbub – eat your damn pumpkins FFS 😉 Tossing 90% of the pumpkins we grow is just plain rude. Mrs Ermine grows these smaller ones which look the part but taste better. We don’t need to carve them, but with cucurbits size does not correlate with flavour IMO.
It’s not so much that the big supermarket ones will taste horrible, the main failure mode is to taste of nothing much at all. Think marrows as opposed to courgettes. Having said that, if it tastes bitter, then toss it out. Pretty much a rule of everything to do with eating really, but according the the RHS bitter squash can give you bellyache if it doesn’t breed true. So don’t seed save curcubits unless you know what you are doing.
Last year I was in Morrissons and they actually labelled their Halloween pumpkins as ‘not for human consumption’, which makes me wonder what the hell they spray the buggers with. And quite frankly, parents, maybe you want to ask yourselves, if you buy this sort of contaminated shit for your kids, then what sort of world you are encouraging capitalism to build for them?
I know, he doesn’t keep it all in cash and gets some return on his money. But the maths works out at enough for 30 years essential spend, even if it isn’t deployed in that way. ↩
Valuations becoming more reasonable is otherwise known as a bear market ↩
Before all the DBAs take the piss, Microsoft Access was the right solution for a club database, easy enough to a tyro to make it work. If it didn’t, the result was going to be embarrassment rather than death. I’m not saying PHE should have used Access ;) ↩
I took my O levels in the mid 1970s. The typical class sizes of my grammar school was 31, but after the O levels class sizes were about half, because half the kids had gone into the world of work. They were fixing cars, helping in businesses, all without A levels or a degree. I saw far more people as a child building the Goldsmith’s College halls of residence than I saw on the entire Olympic Athlete’s Village building site in 2012. You wouldn’t need to be able to read and write as a hod carrier in the 1970s, I saw nobody carrying bricks onto the scaffolding up a ladder in 2012, there were mechanacal aids t do that. ↩
While I despise Halloween for being a jumped up capitalist consumerism-fest, rather than an honourable celebration of the turning of the seasons/harvest festival/thinning of the veil, the truth is that parents who eat their pumpkins with their kids and then carve jack o’lanterns out of them use more of the fruit than I do. Upcycling writ large and they should be applauded! ↩
It is August, California has recorded the hottest temperature on Earth at the aptly-named Furnace Creek. I just can’t imagine 54 degrees. I went there in 1993, and overheated my rental Grand Am in the 1500 meter lift up from Zabriskie Point through Daylight Pass, with the heater flat out and all the windows open. In July…
Nevertheless, in Blighty there is the hint of Autumn in the air in the changes of the natural world. Birdsong has changed from the frenzy of the breeding season, perhaps most clearly and commonly with the Robin, which sings a song that sounds in a minor key to me, which we associate with mournfulness, though of course this is pure anthropomorphising. The retired Ermine is more physically active than the working Ermine. Earlier this year in lockdown there was an edict from the government that you were permitted to spend an hour walking. I stayed with some of this, while I don’t do it every day I cover about three miles. Walking is good for reflection and rumination – in the heat of summer I started earlier, and there is some reward to doing it before wrangling anything that needs an Internet connection to happen.
I get to know the small area better, and living in a small town it is easier to get out into the countryside by shanks’ pony. The transition between town and country is sharp, I cross the liminal space in about fifty yards. Earlier in the year I got to know the territory of some of the blackbirds and robins by their individual song. Now these ranges are more fluid, and I hear the lovely sound of flocks of goldfinches who have swelled their ranks in the breeding season, feasting on the seed-heads. Although the swifts have gone some time ago, the swallows are still swooping over the fields with their chattering sound.
Swallows chattering hawking insects over the fields as I come to the main road
The bold song of the chaffinch has been replaced with the double finch-finch sound of their alert call, and the lovely arrow-like white tail feathers flicker in the morning light as they make their swooping flight away from the paths into the trees. I have seen herons courting and the odd egret drifting lazily on the summer breeze.
I have learned that the sound of the wind in the oak is not the same as the wind in the ash or the willow. In some ways it is reminiscent of the almost animistic approach of my primary-school self, where I knew a very small area intimately. I cover more ground, and there is far more natural variation in the natural world of the Levels than there was in the urban landscape of New Cross. When I checked the size of my childhood world on Google Maps the size of my patch was amazingly small. Continue reading “winter is coming”
One of the likely issues we will have later this year due to coronavirus is a shortage of fresh produce. This is absolutely not the same as OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO STARVE! For starters, a fair proportion of the population doesn’t eat fresh produce at all. In general, young males living in cities don’t, and the very existence of my older self is living proof that it doesn’t kill you. Indeed, the very existence of urban food deserts shows that you can live perfectly OK without fresh produce, though perhaps you shouldn’t do it for more than 10 years once you have reached 30, for your general health. so once again, I am saying things may not taste as good as normal by the Autumn. We are not going to starve by Autumn. There are just some lines you won’t find in the produce aisle that you usually do.
We should tip our hats to the fact that society has managed to keep the wheels running despite the lockdown in terms of the essentials. The Chinese managed it, the Italians have managed it, we are managing it, I hear you can even buy bogroll again 😉 This is not an existential challenge. But we are going to face shortages of fresh produce in the Autumn, and we import a lot from Spain, which is not having a great time of things. The price is likely to go up and the quality will be down.
But you can do something about it, particularly as you may have more time on your hands. Now (in the UK) is a good time to start. Last month would have been better, but you start where you find yourself.
Now I am the first to admit that this isn’t really my area of expertise. I am writing it because I am closer to an ordinary punter, but I have observed Mrs Ermine, for whom this has been a passion from childhood.
Hit the tasty and the exotic first, particularly if you don’t have a garden
We will be fine on staples I should imagine. There will be shortages of some basics, because we import more than half our food, and we featherbed our aristocracy to ruin our soil1 or play silly buggers on our hills. Tim Lang summarises the issues of how we got here, a combination of our early industrialisation and imperial past, we grow about half our food.
but if you turn some of those issues on their head, we will probably be OK, because we can probably pay more on the global market than poorer people. T’ain’t pretty, but it’s the way of the world. But you can fight back and make Autumn taste a little bit better, if that matters to you. If it doesn’t, then I am sure Nando’s and your local kebab shop can keep the show on the road. About a quarter of London’s food by value is eaten outside the home- there have been reports written before the current crisis promoting the kitchenless city. NYC has already got there in part2.
Probably the easiest win for the space-challenged are herbs – a little goes a long way, they are usually cut and come again, they don’t need huge amounts of water, you can use a window box. But they do generally want sun. They make things taste a lot better, and fresh always beats dried. You can grow these from seed, but for a window box get ’em from a supermarket, given garden centres aren’t open. Compost is a problem, some supermarkets carry it. It’s not essential, my younger self never realised you were meant to use compost. I used earth from the garden. Sure, things work better if you have compost, but use what you have to hand. The young Ermine was perhaps unwittingly channelling Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural way of farming ahead of time. There’s too much dogma in gardening. The will to life of most things is strong. If you want to optimise yields and germination rates, sure you have to work harder. But seed is cheap, in most cases JFDI and see what happens.
If you have a small space, then eschew staples. There’s no point in trying to grow a field of wheat in your back garden. Similarly a bag of Maris Piper or King Edward spuds is cheap. Don’t bother. If you are going to grow potatoes, grow fancy ones with a distinctive taste – something like Pink Firs. You can also grow potatoes in compost in containers on a patio.
Look at what’s expensive, and favour that. Favour the vertical over the low and spreading. We3 favour tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, though we also do beans and lettuce. Grow from seed, it’s cheap and lets you succession sow so you don’t end up with more than you can use at any one time
There are intrepid folk like RIT and TA flaying fees on their investment products. Quite rightly so. Anything to do with storing and processing your money should cost as little as possible, subject to delivering a satisfactory service. After all, your money is embodied life-force. You exchanged hours of your life for it, and you want the leak in the tank to be as low as possible.
Oddly enough, when it comes down to credit cards, this seems to escape people totally. I can live with over 20% APR on my credit cards because I don’t pay it. I pay them off or I use promotional deals. If you carry debt on a credit card at 20% off, that’s like every store you buy things from using that card having a big notice – Anti-Sale – pay 20% more for everything. However, clever marketing folks being what they are, there are even more methods to separate credit card users from their money – even if they don’t pay interest! Step forward modern fintech fast-movers. Y’know, the guys that don’t come with lots of legacy Big Iron in their IT systems, who can most fast and break things, and rip you off on the Q.T. , make you feel special about the colour or materials your credit card is made of. The thing replaced by that whizzy fintech app is on your phone so you don’t need to use?
The Ermine failed to understand why some of da yoof chooses to spaff £72 p.a. for a Hot Coral Monzo card. It’s not a one off. I sparked up You and Yours on the wireless1. The programme was mainly about Greta Thunberg, but there was a segment about money saving.
Apparently as well as rushing some punters for a brightly coloured card, Monzo is ripping off their even vainer customers charging a premium for a Metal card, as are Revolut. I was tickled to hear Alexander, a fresh-faced and insecure twenty-something digital media wallah opine that a metal card is also more environmentally friendly, well, no use of plastic, innit? Dude, if you are in the presence of a fire, piss on the nearest bit first. That’s your food packaging and Amazon Prime packaging, not a 5×9cm piece of plastic you replace every three years… Continue reading “Monzo, metal cards and bullet journals”
Annuities are dear, so if someone offers you 97% off, you run, not walk to take them up on it. If you are an early retiree, don’t leave State Pension on the table. You need to get enough NI to get a full SP before you reach SP age, though don’t be in too much of a hurry to pay extra years until you are in the endgame of working.
Unlike most years, where the Santa rally is a thing, there’s not so much cheer on the stock market at the moment.
In other words, there’s a sale on. The Ermine has an additional problem, in that my money is held in increasingly worthless Lesser British Pounds, which are going lower relative to foreign assets day by day. That’s largely due to the pickle we have got ourselves into. Having narrowly voted to leave the EU for a land of unicorns and unlimited supplies of cake, hard reality seems to have met the dream. Usually when that happens the dream loses the fight.
The narrow majority for Brexit covered up an inconvenient problem in that there are two pro-Brexit constituencies, and their interests don’t really overlap.
These are roughly the groups as I see it – one lot want their unskilled jobs back, or at least not to see them going to young folk from the EU who can live more cheaply than their constituents can for a while1. There’s another lot who are the Tory headbangers of the ERG group, who are sore about the loss of sovereignty. There’s an argument that the sovereignty fight should have been had at the time of Maastricht and they should have signed up with James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party. These guys are usually rich enough to weather any storm of a no-deal, or old enough that they don’t have to find work in the resulting maelstrom, and some of them have fond memories of an imperial past when Britain ruled the waves. Whenever I hear Jacob Rees-Mogg speak, I do feel that the 1950s called, and I wasn’t even born in the 1950s, although I am about ten years older than him!
The top left side want much less immigration, they don’t really care about trade deals with non-EU countries, the top right don’t care about immigration but get off on the idea of trade deals free of the yoke of the EU that limits their coruscating ambition. There’s a small dark side of xenophobia, which isn’t necessarily just people who favour Brexit though it does tend to go along with the Brexit patch
At best only one of these groups with non-overlapping interests can be satisfied. Rationally, the largest group that can be satisfied would be the Remainers, because their desire is simple and achievable, what we had before that Cameron chap cocked it all up trying to hold his party together.
If one of the Brexit group gets what it wants, the other group largely doesn’t. The Remainers at least know they lost the fight. The Brexit contingent that doesn’t get what they want will be doubly pissed off because they thought they won. There is no win on offer here that gets anywhere near 50% of people happy. And yet Brexiters are busy screaming the house down about “The Will of the People Must Be Respected”. Well, yeah, as long as it’s not the will of the remainers and as long as it’s not the will of the other half of the Brexit voters, because for them that other lot’s Brexit is not my Brexit.
I’m all for respecting the will of the people, as long as they tell us which will of the people they think that should be. Will the real Brexit stand up and make itself known to the hapless captain of the good ship Britannia? Even when May brings them something that looks like a Brexit, as in ‘submit Article 50 to leave the EU’ people still yell out like two year-olds that’s not what we wanted, Waaah. So they defenestrate May and it’s Groundhog day again.
There should be an honorary eagle pecking out the liver for David Cameron for putting the question is such a stupid, damn-fool and undeliverable manner. It is like having a referendum on “Do You want Real Live Unicorns on the High Street Every Sunday”. The answer may well be yes, but it’s a tough one to deliver. Because: Unobtanium. In the form of cakeism in the first case and unicorns on the other
It’ll soon be the season of goodwill, which also seems to bring about exceptional financial muppetry for some reason. A few years ago it was Shona Sibary and her excessive brood that was financial folly du jour, along with TV producer Charlotte and a few also-rans. Along with running articles on how you can get to retire early, we’ve had a few on people who don’t seem to be planning on retiring ever.
I was tickled by this young 30-year old singleton living with her parents. Now I have some sympathy for her original plight of living in London on 40k a year. If you don’t want to share your living costs with other people, be they a partner or some sort of shared housing/flatshare arrangement, I can believe 40k isn’t enough to live in London. What’s a girl to do in such a quandary? Clearing off back home to live with Mum and Dad seems like an eminently sensible thing to do. Hats off to her for effective action in the face of adversity.
I also have to admire that she doesn’t have a credit card because she’s too worried about ending up in debt. Wise move, that. But where I am totally nonplussed is that of her £2200 pcm take home,
By the time I’ve paid rent, done some food shopping (I want to pay my way as much as I can), settled my phone bill and insured, taxed and put petrol in my car, there’s not a great deal left.
I mean FFS? Let’s leave aside the breathless insouciance of not getting that: hitting Bank of M&D for a few hundred sods a month for foreseeable expenses like eating and car maintenance is not paying your own way by any of the usual definitions of the term.
An ermine spent some £400 on road tax and insurance and £1k on servicing and fuel last year. My phone bill is some £50 a month, so that’s about £2k p.a. Let’s say that’s £200 a month. Leaves our heroine with £2k a month. Say she spends £1000 a month on drinking with her workmates and clothes, and surely the reduced rent to Mum and Dad plus food can’t eat up the remaining £1k. I’d say our young lady has a serious drugs habit she’s not letting on about if it’s really true that none of the £2200 a month actually sticks to the sides. There’s precious little detail about what she actually does spend it on, this is Grazia, after all, which seems to have little detail about anything. It did, however, introduce me to the latest wheeze to part the financially naive from their hard-earned:
Klarna – a buy-now pay later app
As I was considering a corduroy pink boiler suit in the Topshop Black Friday pre-sales, under the Add to Basket button, a rectangular box winked at me: “Pretend it’s pay day! Pay ⅓ now and the rest later”. That’s Klarna.
I confess I’ve read the entire article, and looked at the Klarna website, and it looks like a credit account that’s restricted in stores you can use it to pay. It absolutely beats the hell out of me why on earth you would want to do that, but if a subset of Millennials really are so gormless that they find ease of use of payment so important to them that they will take these restrictions lying down, then they deserved everything that’s coming to them, quite frankly. A jolly good shafting, by the looks of it.
Financial Friction is your Friend
There’s a strong hint that Klarna’s bad for your wealth right in the rubric here
Klarna is the millennial store card, designed for a generation who want things as easily as possible, or in Klarna’s words “a frictionless buying experience”
You want friction in the buying experience. It throws sand in the wheels of your advertising-addled monkey-brain. One of the wins I had in racking back my spending was the simple addition of controlled friction. If it cost more that £100, I wrote it down on a piece of paper with a date. Allow a week to pass. If it still looks like a good idea a week later, go get it. It’s really quite amazing how many things don’t look like such a good idea a week later. Hours of your life died to earn that money. Honour the sacrifice by taking the time out to think. Obviously if it’s a piece of safety equipment or it’s going to save life right now then go right ahead, but most purchases really aren’t that urgent. A little bit of sand in the wheels of the Iwantitnow reflex doesn’t hurt. Nowadays I can get away with 24 hours, but the week cooling-off period is a good one to break the I-want-it-now habit at the start.
Klarna is good for them. It’s not good for you. Much of Grazie’s article is spent talking about how great it is to be able to ‘buy’ a gazillion sizes, try out the ones that fit and return the others, without having to front the money. In the old days you could do that in the store, it was called a changing room. But fair enough, I geddit, things change, Millennials live busy lives and don’t do face to face, life is lived best through the screen of a smartphone. What I can’t get is what does Klarna do here that my trusty credit card can’t.
If I buy five pairs of high heels just after I pay the card off, I get well over a month before I even need to think about paying back my flexible friend. That’s probably long enough to find out which four pairs will give me bunions and return the buggers for a refund 1
a hard credit search each time you want to slice it
But the worst thing about Klarna is that say I am Grazie’s Sian, and while Klarna lets me return 9 out of my 10 items without raising the capital up front, I still decide that I need to slice it because my 40k salary is insufficient to buy myself all the things and experiences I wish to have in my young life. Each and every time Sian hits the old ‘slice it’ button, that’s a new hard credit search. Since she’s in the habit of spending more than she earns, that’s a new hard credit search every month, if not every purchase.
In comparison, if a grizzled Ermine decides to slice it, that’s called ‘not paying off the credit card in full every month’. No new credit search, just business as usual. It’s a stupid way of living for all the usual reasons, but were I saving for my house deposit then when I get to ask for a mortgage the bank isn’t going to go ‘Holy cow, 12 hard credit searches in the last year, no way am I lending this punter a single lousy penny, never mind a couple hundred grand’.
Nobody will lend me any money, because I have virtually zero income. The last time a hard credit search for ‘would you lend this mustelid any money’ was run on me was when I took out my credit cards, which was when I was still employed – it’s getting on for over ten years now. I took a look for credit searches on me. They are all for insurance and ID qualification, plus one for Starling bank. Who then go on to lie about my balance, saying it’s £0. It’s £2500 FFS, because they pay me a gnat’s cock of interest on the current account as well as being the solution to not getting receipts for contactless payments. They also don’t charge me stupid amount for using the card abroad 2.
Over There and Overindebted
Everything’s bigger in the States – houses, hot dogs, cars, and debt. And Financial Folly in the pseudonymous Kate and Tom. The problem is simple. Too many snowflake kids, too many airs about the kids, too much house.
Our first house was perfectly fine, but I was pregnant with our third child, and we had three bedrooms in that house and wanted a fourth.
They could probably afford the kids – just save the $15k pa each that goes on private schooling and give it to them as a bounty on reaching 21. See Rule 5 later on
But we have a good deal — we’ll pay $15,000 for the three of them. But, of course, it’s all going back on credit. There’s a company that offers educational loans for private school.
I love the way he claims to be good for $90k a year, and get works as a bartender at night. I mean, how does that bartending job even get to shift the needle on the dial? Then there’s this sort of addled thinking:
Tom: To be fair, we do try to save money where we can. We had a lease on a minivan that was costing us $405 a month that we just downsized to a $208 car. Kate: We always lease cars. Honestly, we can’t afford repairs. If our car broke down, we wouldn’t have the $3,000 to fix it. We need to have that high car payment because, frankly, we are not good enough with money to have savings.
Dudes, it’s simple. If you need to lease a car, you can’t afford to drive one. End of. Sure, if you could afford to buy one, but choose to lease, well, perhaps you get the new car smell more often. I pay too much for some things, because I can’t be arsed to squeeze the lemon on everything. I can afford to do that because I don’t borrow money for these things.
These guys aren’t stupid and they’re earning a decent screw. They’re playing a strong hand incredibly badly.
More and more I start to wonder if the road to financial success is far less about what you do do. It’s a tough one – in nearly all other endeavours you progress by getting better at what you do do. With money, an individual surrounded by clever people manipulating the atavistic monkey-brain with advertising, social media FOMO and people who want your money finds themselves in an unfair fight. It’s what you don’t do that matters: