Powerless in Hitchin

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

We’re still too busy to spend much time on writing and photographing. Well, we’ve taken plenty of photos but the process of getting them from the camera to the web is too time consuming. Just now the power went out (for about three hours in the end), someone dug a hole– bzzt, no power.

I like birds

We’ve been feeding the birds. We put a bird feeder up in the elder tree and have been entertained by Great Tits, Blue Tits, House Sparrows, Greenfinches, Blackbirds (they eat snails, yes!), a Collared dove, and a couple of Wood Pigeons. I think the tits, sparrows, and finches are the same breeding pairs returning regularly. The whistles and chirps of these various birds is a constant background all day, rather pleasant really.

One thing we have learnt is that the fancy-pants birdseed mixes are no good for hanging feeders. The Great Tits just sit at the spout and throw everything out (onto the ground below) until they find the bits they want. I spoke to the lady in the Fruit & Veg shop, that also sells bird feeders and feed, about this (they also, unbelievably, sell stamps and coins – as in the collecting variety.) She confirmed my suspicions, basically the fancy-pants mixes are for fools! This is a common occurrence, the mixes can be OK for feeding trays though. The best thing is to have one feeder for peanuts (what the Great Tits go for) and another for seeds. So now we have two feeders in the elder tree.

Harry Tuttle, a man consumed by paperwork

I’ve been working through the condition report. Back in Australia rental condition reports tend to be a single A4 sheet of standard design, containing tick-boxes and a few brief notes. Here in the UK there’s a whole industry for the things, check-in and check-out reports are prepared and conducted by specialist “Independent Inventory Clerk” companies. For our new place we have a 31 page document, it reads like a maintenance nightmare. That’s good for us though, it’d take a lot of neglect to make the place worse by checkout. All in all I expect it’ll be in significantly better condition when we leave.

Anyway, in addition to the 31 page document I’ve typed up my own 4 page document. This is mainly 2.5 pages of additional details where issues were not covered in the inventory. Such as the Cooker Hood missing its filters and having a disconnected extractor hose. Also, several internal doors don’t latch, which is annoying at times but OK. The largest concern is security, the ground-floor windows have no locking mechanism and are difficult to close.

I’ve already been busy putting up curtain rails and curtains as well as mucking around in the back yard. We’re getting there. Got a lot of stuff to do still though. After all this I hope we end up staying here for a good two years. Never know what’s going to happen though. Stability? A thing of the past.

The whole condition report thing is whiffy to me, it all stinks of collusion. Another black mark against “agents,” may their lying brains rot and run out their ears. Agents have nice relationships with these inventory companies, and the check-out cleaning companies, who are in with the inventory companies. Back in Ricky they all knew each other very well. The agents recommended a particular cleaner, and make it pretty clear that this is the cleaner to us. The cleaner has an arrangement with the agent such that if there are any issues with cleanliness the cleaner comes back to fix these up at no extra cost. The whole system is highly tuned to extract my money as efficiently as possible. We got the whole bond back, but in reality that’s minus £150 for 30 minutes of the Inventory Clerk’s time and minus £210 for the cleaning… £350! (The cleaning was done very well though, and the price included full and thorough cleaning of the oven. The price may seem high, but there were three people doing the job and it took them the better part of a day.)

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours”

I’ve met one of our neighbours, she was sweeping her front path when I popped out wondering why my electrons had stopped flowing. Her and her husband have been living in their house for 49 years! It was £3500 when they bought it, how’s that for inflation? It isn’t just inflation though, back then most people could afford a house, so long as one of them had some sort of full time employment. Pretty much any sort of employment would be sufficient to afford a place. Times have changed, eh? These days, for the same place in the same location, a couple would have to both have full time work and both have pretty good jobs to boot.

She moved here with her husband from the West Indies. Living in a single-room bedsit to start with, just up the road in Letchworth. They’ve been in the area ever since.

She says she’s never heard of any burglaries on the street, which is reassuring. Apparently many residents are retirees who’re home most of the day, and everyone keeps their eyes on things. She does seem to have a “kids these days” sort of expectation that it’s going to happen eventually though. “It used to be quieter in these parts.”

I’m a lumberjack, and I’m OK, I work all night and I sleep all day

Well, sometimes I wish. It’d be a simpler arrangement. I’ve mentioned the landscape gardening thing before, right? 🙂

Work, my sort at least, is very difficult without a decent ‘net connection. It’s becoming frustrating. A large part of the difficulty is that we, long ago, chose Perforce as an SCM. Perforce is nice, I like it, I’ve become a fan even. That said, there’s many SCMs out there these days and I’ve only tried a small handful of them. By default I still stick to “plain old” SVN.

The problem with Perforce is that it really doesn’t like being offline. It isn’t an SCM for the disconnected café hacker, or otherwise ‘net challenged individual. By default all your files are checked out read-only, to edit one you need to tell the Perforce server – it is the server that tracks these things you see. You can just chmod+w or otherwise force writes, but then you get confused since it’s just your own head trying to track things at that point (I do, I’ve tried.) You can also check out the entire codebase as “open for edit,” however this has its own issues when it comes to committing changes and creating changelist spam. I think I’ll be more sane if I switch to this approach now regardless.

Proper ‘net should be along soon, we do have a phone line now at least. As is usual, for the UK, we’ve been given a phone line that was recently active elsewhere. (With our previous number I answered more calls for “Trout Rise Farm” than I did for us.) Our first call to the new number was a barely intelligible telemarketer, joy, so I immediately added the number to the “do not call” list. Subsequently we’ve received several calls for people I’ve never heard of. So now I don’t answer the phone, in fact I’ve unplugged it. We’re not going to give the number out. In the cases, which crop up now and then, where some braindead company considers a landline number mandatory I guess we’ll give it to them – with the caveat that we will never answer calls to the number.

Baby baby baby, you are my voodoo child“–

Man do I hate gym music. Must dig up the JoS and get some more acceptable, and less repetitious, beats happening.

So, the Letchworth Cannons isn’t really up to scratch in the free-weights department. No squat rack, that’s the main negative – but I was hardly expecting to find one. They have the ubiquitous Smith Machine, which is OK for squats so long as you’re careful. At least, this is my belief based on all the reading I’ve done on the subject. The problem with the Smith Machine is that it causes you to rely on it for stability, thus you do your stability muscles no good. Worse still, using the bar as a stability point can easily cause you to place shearing force on your spinal column – a big no-no. When some gym waif squats a few kg for a handful of reps they’re probably not going to do themselves much damage. But when you want to squat heavy the shear force is going to be higher, thus you must be very very careful with your form (even more so than usual it seems.) Again, I’m no expert but I’ve read a lot of material on this, complete with anatomical force diagrams – they have me convinced.

Some of the more extreme sites I browse are vehemently anti-Smith-Machine, considering a squat machine a far better alternative (since they generally force you to keep better form.) Generally gym equipment is a pretty divisive subject, the flame-wars are much the same as they are in tech-communities. I tend to listen to the side of the argument that comes from the heavy lifters, this group, I think, is in the best position to know what’s safe and sensible. (You don’t get to squatting more than 150kg using unsafe techniques!)

From the PoV of a gym, which is more relevant in this instance, a proper squat rack probably is a safety liability. A clueless person lifting light weights on a Smith Machine is less likely to damage themselves than they are trying to squat light weights with a free bar. Gyms like Cannons are mostly full of clueless people! This flips for the semi-informed and heavier lifters, who’re more likely to damage themselves on the Smith Machine as a result of regular lifting with more subtle flaws to their form. Gyms like Cannons generally don’t have to worry about these sorts of users because they don’t go to gyms like Cannons. Why do I go to Cannons? Because I’m a cheapskate (it’s free with my health insurance if I go often enough) and, when it comes down to it, don’t take it too seriously anyway. That is, I take safety completely seriously – that’s why I read so much about it. What I don’t take seriously is my squatting; no squat rack? OK, no heavy free-bar squats then. I can do heavy dumbbell squats and high-volume bar squats with lighter weights.

Anyway, Cannons makes up for the absence of a squat rack somewhat by having two good cable machines with all the typical attachments and a variety of chin-up and dip handles. They also have the usual huge rack of dumbbells, so no switching plates all the time (the number 1 annoyance with working out at home.)

Consuming Passions


Little luck with coffee in town so far. Nero is the best I’ve found, sadly enough, but is very unstable. The posh deli has some promise though. They list several coffees as fresh roasted and the girl I spoke to claims they’ll do any of them as espresso or filter. This last bit is a little disturbing, seeing only one grinder I assume they mean that they keep the other coffees pre-ground. Ick. Anyway, what it does mean is that their house-blend is probably not too old, a good sign. It tastes OK but there’s a big problem in their default espresso – far far far far too long. One of the worst cases I’ve come across, it’s basically a “Darren Black” (as we call it back in Sydney because Darren likes ’em, a whole cup of coffee put through the grounds.)


We’ve had much better luck with our carnivorous urges. The butcher on the town square, Allingham Bros., is a purveyor of fine quality flesh. It’s a traditional little butcher shop-front, and at the end of they day the meat in the display window is replaced with a little display of historical artefacts. There’s little information about them online, the most interesting fact I can find is that they were trading during WW2. “Ration books came in and Mum would regale us about how she managed to fare in Allingham’s the butcher’s queue – offal and rabbits were not rationed and on such a buy Mum would act as though she had won the pools.

The butcher has direct game sources, it sounds like they have a good relationship with several keepers. They also have a direct rabbit source, and sell only snared and ferreted rabbit. They keep a large stock in the freezer for the off-season too, including pheasants, wild boar, and venison (wild.)

Their more “normal” meats have fuelled my last week of BBQing. I’ve BBQed lamb, beef, pork, and chicken. BBQ! BBQ! Yay! Now I’ve done the “normal” meats it’s time to move on to the wildlife, that wood pigeon that visits our little yard better be aware!

My has meat been getting expensive though, especially beef and lamb.


There’s a lot of choice for vegetables on market day, with at least three stalls available. In general I think we’ll do our veg shopping at the little “stamps and coins” place. I like the feel of it, and they sell bird feeders too, as well as stamps and coins. I got some very fresh asparagus there yesterday, excellent stuff.

That’s a lot of words. Bye.