21 Jun 2017, 9:37am
living intentionally Suffolk:
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  • A FIRE approach to air conditioning

    One of the advantages of being an employee is that The Man usually air-conditions your cubicle. Well, for knowledge workers, anyway, rather than, say, brickies or landscape gardeners. And the heat is on in England at the moment.

    Way back when, in the 2003 heatwave DxGF and I bought a standalone air conditioner and we thrashed that unit, but it used a horrific 3kW to sort of chill one room. It seems to take far more energy to cool something down through a certain temperature difference than it does to heat it up by the same difference, I guess these things are dreadfully inefficient, particularly standalone units that try and pump out the waste heat carried in air as opposed to dual systems with an inside and outside unit with the waste heat carried in a circulating liquid. So you get a 3kW heater in the room to add to the load. Not only that, you have to open the window a crack to get the exhaust hose out.

    We were grateful for that in 2003, but it made an unconscionable noise and power was cheaper in those days. 1

    Dunwich beach

    So it needs some lateral thinking. I need a large body of water, and the North Sea will do. Time to park myself down by the waterside and chill out to the waves –

    and the peaceful sound 2. There was a pleasant breeze off the sea – it was almost too cold.

    I did look around and wonder why the other punters weren’t at work – some were retirees but half seemed to be families. I can’t really moan that the beach was teeming like Benidorm.

    So the ermine air conditioning isn’t really that portable. But it does have some extra features, like the fine ruins of Greyfriars Friary

    Greyfriars, Dunwich

    and it seemed rude not to celebrate the moment with some fine dining

    Local strawberries and cream from the Friday Street farm shop just off the A12

    Londoners travelling up the A12 for a weekend break may want to note the  Friday Street farm shop, which is a few hundred yards detour off the A12 on the London-bound side. The strawberries and cream set me back £3.23 which I thought was a good deal for quality in both items, and they have a good range of foodie delectables. I paid roughly twice that in fuel. There are some that may carp that you can’t spend £10 for gratuitous decadence every day, but I have done my time of ultra-frugality now. No nightingales to be heard in Dunwich forest, where I’ve heard them in previous years, it’s probably too late in the season now

    Dunwich is noted for mostly having disappeared into the sea. In 1250 it was a rich port town of 4000 souls. Since then the sea has gnawed away about 1.5km of the coastline, so most of the old town has fallen into the sea. It is now a village of about 100 people.

    The last surviving gravestone from All Saints church, lost to the sea. This was Jacob Forster who departed this life March 12th 1796, age 38

    The sound of the sea is not far from Jacob Forster’s grave. It’s coming for him after two centuries of undisturbed repose…

    Mr Money Mustache will no doubt consider seeking air conditioning an act of pusillanimous weakness, but the trouble is that no part of Britain is very far from the sea, and in a maritime climate it always really wants to rain. Even on a hot day with blue sky – the inherent desire to rain results in high humidity. So things like swamp coolers work fine at the lower latitudes of LA, but are a waste of space and money here.

    In LA at the same temperature this would be way down towards the 40% mark

    So I am leveraging the fact that I own my own time, and summer is a good time to live like a king, reasonably cheaply. Strawberries and cream by the seaside is pretty good 😉

    Incidental rant: why doesn’t Britain have proper cadastral records?

    I came across this notice walking from the car park to the Friary:

    No cadastral records, no bloody clue

    Every other European country has a definitive land register of who owns what. But not in Britain. Because all the land was seized in 1066,  what the King didn’t keep for the Crown was handed out to the aristocracy, which hoards it and passes it down the generations, much of the land in the UK is not on the Land Registry, so you get situations like this.

    In any French village you can ask to look at the cadastral records at the Mairie to know who holds a piece of land. Isn’t it about time that we sorted ourselves out and demanded of the aristocracy and anyone else that it bloody well registers every single claim to every piece of land it asserts that it owns, and if no claim is made after 10 years then tough shit, it belongs to us all? After all, if it isn’t registered then Lord Warburton-Smythe can simply make sure everyone looks the other way when his sprog Jimmy Warburton-Smythe-Pollock take over that part of the family estate when he pegs it because no bugger knows about that acreage, because it isn’t on the records. Decent cadastral records would help catch sneaky buggers avoiding inheritance tax and would be a prerequisite to introducing a land value tax. It smacks of dire incompetence not being able to find out who owns what of a scarce and finite resource, and one every other civilised country has solved. But since the lack of transparency serves the aristocracy perfectly well, they won’t let anything be done about out it, the piss taking bastards.

    Notes:

    1. Americans will be tapping their heads, and go just get damn split system aircon, but I wonder how you have any hearing left. When I arrived in LA after a long flight and got to the motel the room aircon unit was on, and I thought I can’t hack this racket, so I turned it off. You don’t do that in LA in July – not getting any sleep was preferable to being fried 😉 Airconditioners I’ve come across in Europe are usually made by Japanese firms like Mitsubishi and are much quieter, but that thing was an all-American GE unit and made a terrible noise. Elsewhere in the city aircon seemed unwholesomely rowdy until you got to a Fortune 500 company offices or a bank. I guess people just get used to the noise.
    2. the intermittent rumbling is sadly the wind, I only had a handheld rig as I wasn’t expecting to do any recording.
    16 Jun 2017, 11:18pm
    living intentionally
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  • Over 50s are big spenders on home and lifestyle into retirement and beyond

    Be afraid, people, be very afraid. Saga 1 tells us the over 50s are big spenders. It’s the beyond retirement that I’m intrigued by, have these profligate silver surfers found a way of borrowing from their own cold dead hands? I’m sure the intergenerational foundation would have something to say about that, but Saga?

    I’m sorry, but by the time you’ve gotten over 50. you shouldn’t be in the business of borrowing for frippery, For sure, you shouldn’t be paying down your mortgage if there are better things you can be doing with your money, like socking it into a pension or investing it. But if you want a new kitchen, and need to buy that sucker on the never-never, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself. Now there is a case to say YOLO, but only if you can be sure that you can outrun your debts. The advantage a young person has in going YOLO and living beyond their means is they have human capital in spades – their future self gets to work longer or harder to redeem their overspending. The finished at fifty, not so  much.

    For a fifty-something to play the YOLO game effectively, you need to be able to know the year you die. Now you can determine that, but it’s all going a bit Logan’s Run

    Jenny Agutter in Logan’s Run

    and often involves Dignitas. I’m personally of the opinion that a sentient being ought to be able to choose that option, but terror management theory generally induces most of us off the way of the Cylopes. It really would make retirement planning a damn sight easier, but the option is still an uncommon choice.

    So many new cars, Saga surfers, so few holidays, WTF?

    Saga say these over 50s buy three new cars in the decade 50-60 and yet only seven foreign holidays, which strikes me as odd, what’s with the materialism grizzled citizens of Saga-land? Mind you, Saga are one of the few banks to advance a loan based on income both from a pension and from savings and investments. The trouble is the usurous 7.9% APR. I’ve groused before on how an retiree is a loans pariah, even when the aim of the loan is to use tax allowances, indeed a 7.9% APR would be tolerable to get a 20% uplift. But not if you have to be a homeowner and it’s secured on the house. Although taking up a use it or lose it tax allowance is a reasonable sort of thing to borrow money for, it becomes non-reasonable if you open yourself up to the risk of losing your house or becoming a forced seller.

    Paying nearly 8% for a new kitchen or car before you have saved for it is just foolish in my view. and by the time you are into your sixth decade you really ought to have learned better. Unless you have a good reason to believe your future self will be richer than your present self, just don’t do it.

    The 50s is a very tough decade for the FI crew to get right

    This decade is tough for many reasons. You can’t get hold of your pension savings until your are 55 and rising, so a whole chunk of your savings may be sterilised, the old silo problem again. You are fast running out of human capital – it very much depends on the field you have been working in, but openings at the sort of salary you were on if you can consider early retirement may be rare. Your financial risk exposure to redundancy is high, and you have less time to catch up if it does happen to you. You may be at a peak of child-related spending unless you had your children very early in life. One of the notable features of the early retirees from The Firm before 55 was that they were mostly the child-free, and being out of the university expenses meat grinder was probably a big part of that.

    Retiring before 55 runs against the general way people do retirement, and it’s a more critical decision because just as you cut the power you have the longest glide path to sustain. It’s a hard balance to get right. Looking back, it is clear that I underspent in the early years following retirement in 2012. Compounding the error I earned a few lousy bits of money in a few one-off hit and run jobs and then picked up a steady income from some technical stuff and bookkeeping until last month. I never recognised these amounts as any useful amount of money, because they were typically less than 10% of what I had been earning when I was working, and I didn’t trust them, so they formed no part of my budgeting. But they seemed to make a surprisingly large contribution to the slowing of the fall in my networth, which was aided by the stock market being tremendously kind to me across the years 2009 to now, until I could make it with just my DB pension because I could defer it long enough.

    Much as I was a purist in that the aim of retirement was to bust The Man right out of my life, I discovered that it was freedom from the rules and the bullshit that I wanted, only later did I find it was also the freedom to do other things, which is why it is time to get work right out of my life again as my pension savings come on stream. No SHMD The Returned for me 😉 I am no longer self-employed as of this month, now that I have collected my second and last year of Class II NI contributions purchased at the spiffing price of £150 p.a. When I was on PAYE I was paying over £5k p.a. and the cheeky barstewards made those years count less for being contracted out. It’s not necessarily the last money I will ever earn, but I will favour no-commitment one-off hit and run jobs in future.

    I don’t know what the personal circumstances of all these profligate Saga spenders are. This extract doesn’t convince me they are that well off –

    Lenders have been short sighted by turning down people by looking only at earned income which is one of the reasons we launched Saga Personal Loans, to give more people access to credit they can afford in order to live the way they want to.

    Perhaps Saga haven’t targeted me because I am simply too poor, not because I have cleverly dodged their tracking mechanisms. But if their fifty somethings are borrowing money to do up their houses and buy three new cars in 10 years, then these guys aren’t that rich either, and they certainly aren’t living within their means. I spy trouble ahead for these indebted consumers as their human capital rapidly dwindles. The ermine may look poor to Saga, I’ve never bought a new car in my entire life, never mind three after retiring. But I am rich in a way that these silver borrowers aren’t. When I buy consumer goods on credit cards I pay them down in full each month as the statements fall due. Saga’s big spenders are rich in cars and kitchens, I am rich in self-determination. Each to their own.

     

    Notes:

    1. I am very happy to say Saga haven’t yet detected from my spending patterns and personal data held by advertisers that the Ermine has crossed the 50 turns around the sun mark despite me being closer to 60 than 50, I have never received junk mail from them
    14 Jun 2017, 5:36pm
    economy personal finance
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  • workers will retire from five million jobs in the next 10 years

    Government figures tell us that over the next five years people will retire from 12.5 million jobs, and there will be only 7 million young people to fill them. Somehow the authors of the report also assume that another two million jobs will be created. Oh yes, and last year our blessed fellow countrymen decided that they didn’t want Johnny Foreigners coming over ‘ere and taking our jobs. The inference seems to be that we need to get our ageing baby boomers out of retirement to go fill these jobs.

    Now a cynical Ermine thinks to self firstly ‘when Hell freezes over’ and secondly – a number of things that are wrong with this scenario. It’s not just investments where past performance is not supposed to be a reliable guide to the future. I’d say there’s this problem with economic prognostications too.

    Let’s take a look at what’s been happening with jobs over the last few decades, shall we?

    Once upon a time, like when an Ermine first rocked up for work in the early 1980s, you could apply for a job, and you’d actually be working for the company on their payroll. That was the case whether you were a graduate engineer or if you were the toilet cleaner. Said firm would also invest in you – they would train you, which was of particular relevance if you had a generalist degree or the company worked in a technical specialism that had unusual quirks. They would also pay into your defined benefit pension – for The Firm at least this even applied to the janitors until the mid 1980s.

    The something called neoliberalism showed up, and communications and IT improved significantly. A whole bunch of blowhards like Peter Drucker came along and pretty much said that pitch everybody against everyone else, let the devil take the hindmost and may the best man win.

    As a result, CEO pay shot up as a multiple of the average employee’s wage, and that was after they hived off the janitors et al to supply services companies and drove wages down to the lowest levels, so the average employee is drawn from a smaller pool of higher qualified staff. That CEO ratio still shot up, not because CEOs add any more value to companies now, indeed looking at stock market returns they’re adding less than before the millennium, but because they are top dog and they can.

    A quick detour through Globalisation, BPO and All That

    Then in the 1990s and early 200s we had wave upon wave of business process outsourcing which sent anything you could send off to lower wage economies, this afflicted the English speaking world more than others because of a ready global pool of decent English speakers. This has very materially improved global pay and reduced global poverty in a big way, as the the right-wing nutjob Tim Worstall correctly opines. And repeats himself thusly. As do the not left-of-centre Adam Smith Institute.

    It isn’t true that everyone benefits from free trade and globalisation. The net effect on all humans is vastly positive, but there are still those that lose. And that’s a political problem, not an economic one. For the people who don’t win are, largely speaking, those below median incomes in the already rich countries.

    Now Tim’s probably rich enough not to give a shit, I figure TW is well over the median income in a rich country. So was (and possibly am) I, but I am far closer to the edge than him, so I am more twitchy. None of these fellows are wrong. All other things being equal, for the sum total of humanity globalisation delivers the goods in the way Bob Geldof and so-called aid just didn’t. It probably wasn’t Sir Bob’s fault – the sort of corruption and baksheesh that aid generates is remarkable, there are many problems in the world that helicoptered money just can’t fix. But even the distorted version of free market capitalism that goes now left all that do-gooding in the dust when it came to alleviating global poverty.

    Globalisation also needed a population explosion because it needs growth.

    There is some argument to be made that it also enabled a shocking population explosion which has made a lot of things like food, water and climate change a lot tougher to nail in future than they were when I was at school, when there were half as many people in the world. I suspect globalisation only works when there is economic growth, and to have economic growth you need growth in the number of consumers, but I am not smart enough to say that is categorically the case. At the moment the score is Oxfam-nil:Globalisation-1

    Communism was also a great idea in theory. Trouble was it went against the grain of human nature. So the trouble with globalisation is that people don’t care evenly about humanity in general. They care about the humanity that is closest to them. Within rich countries we have institutions that sort of temper this instinct, but when the people who are getting the uplift are far away, then the people below median incomes in rich countries who are drifting backwards economically get really, really, pissed off. They let people know, through Brexit and Donald Trump among others. In general they want to put a spanner in the works, because nothing pisses people off more than not getting ahead while seeing other people are.

    The effect of globalisation on First World Jobs

    It makes lovely jobs lovely, and pretty much the rest of them shit. Q: What’s worse than a zero-hours contract job? A: A ZHC job where you get fined £250 a day if you can’t find a replacement if you’re sick. Or only £150. Welcome to the lousy jobs. I am glad that I had my career while the Iron Curtain was still down – true, we had to watch films like Threads and worry about being nuked in four minutes but at least I wasn’t competing with Vladimir and 1 billion in India, and I was working in an analogue world where the cost of replication was higher than now. That suited me very well, because while I am on the right hand side of the bell curve I am not that far to the right of it, and I am an introvert which is maladapted to the interconnected and always-on world of work now. Collaboration and teamwork – meh. You get ahead by having an edge, and you get an edge by spending time understanding what is going on IMO. Chatter on SMS and social media is for gossip, and meetings aren’t much better 😉

    Back to the original premise – a deficit of 7 million jobs?

    Well they’re not going to be getting old gits like me back out of retirement to go into the bear-pit of zero hours contracts, are they? The second word would the -off. Because all in all, working is increasingly a pretty shit proposal, and it’s particularly crap compared to my experience of working in the past. Fortunately, a whole different bunch of guys is telling us that Humans Need Not Apply and that the robots will be doing all these shit jobs. Hopefully this deficit of people desperate for crap jobs is going to do some good then, and people will automate the crap jobs they can’t get the retired baby boomers to fill. This will finally lift capital productivity in Britain although possibly not per-capita productivity. Pret a Manger say that 1 in 50 of their workers in British. Well, tough luck – Londoners are going to have to pay more of their bonuses for their coffee and snacks or brown-bag it, and some teenagers in London are going to get breaks they couldn’t get before, until the robots come. Or they will set up camp somewhere outside the citadel and bus in the serfs. I am not so sure I find that such a terrible thing.

    There, Mr Government and your hired guns. Fixed that for you. Taking 7 million shit jobs out of the economy is A Very Good Thing in this humble Ermine’s opinion. There’s now’t wrong with encouraging those old gits to punch their cards one last time and clear off, even if there aren’t enough worker drones to fill their shoes. The balance had been swinging from Labour to Capital ever since the 1970s. There are too many crap jobs in the UK, and retirement of the Baby Boomers could be just what the workplace needs at the bottom end.

     

    9 Jun 2017, 7:41am
    economy:
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  • Sowing the wind in the summertime and the living is easy…

    Nearly a year ago the Will of The People™ amply guided by the Will of the Press Barons™ spake of their dreams of throwing of the foul yoke of Brussels, and the Pound took a dive of about 20%. And people said either it was a price well worth paying for freedom from EUSSR tyranny, and anyway, since we make so much of our own stuff and grow so much of essentials like food, the effect on inflation was going to be a mere few percent, so chill out you goddamned remoaners etc etc. In the frenzy of cheer and Enlightenment values we had the Daily Mail calling the judiciary the enemies of the people, perhaps they should have been true to their hearts and used the term Volksverräter

    Well, fast forward a year, which is often when the harvest from last year’s sowing is due, and what have we got? Presumably loads of hospital building, increased pay for NHS staff in the pipeline and all that good stuff we had plastered on the side of buses? Let’s hear it from Mark Carney then.

    Uncertainty for companies about the outlook may also have made them unwilling to raise wages at a faster pace until they have more clarity about future costs and market access

    Oh well, guess that’s the price of freedom then, guys. You don’t get ‘owt for n’owt. I was reminded of this as a couple of Conservative dudes cruised round a few days ago wanting to know if they could count on my vote. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, to ask a genuine Tory how David Cameron could have been allowed to fuck things up so beautifully by asking a question to which he didn’t really want to hear the full range of answers. An affable old Tory gent, Geoffrey Van Orden responded that it will be fine and all right on the night. He was the first aristocratic-viewpoint Brexiteer I’ve come across, because the Ermine is of lowly stock and doesn’t normally move in such circles. I know enough ordinary folk who were into the sovereignty side of things, and tended to be a little bit older than me. That’s fair enough, it takes more than one viewpoint to make up a world, and at least these retired folk aren’t subject to the vicissitudes of finding work. Nor have they had the possibility of going abroad to earn money and escape the tyranny of British housing and its vile BTL landlords ripped away from them, so although I don’t agree I can see they hold a valid different opinion. I have also run into a couple of the xenophobic sort of Brexiteers, I try and avoid the lowlife scum end of the spectrum. But since it is largely the wealthy gentry and their mouthpieces of the right-wing press that brought us this joyful freedom, I was interested to see what an example was like in the flesh.

    I noted the public school accent and education, which gave him the edge in verbal dialectics compared to me, although I also observed the entitlement to rule character. He identified me as a Remainer and feigned sympathy for the cause which he clearly doesn’t have. Was clearly chilled about the way Brexit has made political discourse pretty nasty in this country, and is of the view that if a few Poles get roughed up, well, that’s just statistical variation, correlation with Brexit not causation, dear boy. I guess the ends justify the means.

    Geoffrey showed me just how much further away from the heat the rich really are

    The ermine is hopefully on the right side of the impending Brexit economy suckout, but it worries me. Sure, I read things like this article and with this sage reflection:

    The fuse of currency depreciation had been lit, and was quietly making its way towards the tinderbox of rising inflation, higher household debt and increased pressure on spending power.

    The average household is now spending an additional £21 a quarter on groceries compared with last year. That may not seem a huge amount, but with inflation on the up that could mean an extra £119 over the course of this year. Airfares, package holidays and energy bills are all rising while wages remain the same.

    and think to myself well, if £120 a year is going to push you over the edge then you’re hosed anyway. You way as well stick your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye right now. And FFS, airfares, package holidays – you need to pay your energy bills but cut out the holidays if you find the wolves howling ever closer to the door. To be honest the prescription is always the same, cut the wants before the needs, live within your means, and avoid picking up commitments that you can’t afford to run.

    But it’s still a worry for me, I am many multiples of that £120 a year from the breadline but they’ll all add up. Whereas the likes of the old buffer Geoffrey swan blithely through that sort of worry, because they are so far away from being washed away by the incoming tide that they spout about grand plans, which broadly sum up to a Trump-esque “Make Britain Great Again”. I never did understand why they had so many wartime films on the telly in the 1970s but it seems that the sentiment burns on in many Brexiteers’ hearts, particularly if they are of a certain age.

    Geoffrey talked lovingly about his fine work with the Indian trade delegation when I reminded him that I am old enough to recall the National Front marching through Lewisham in the 1970s and that sort of intolerance of t’other seems to be on the rise again. Apart from a minor technicality of him doing this as a MEP which will be worth a bucket of spit after Brexit, it really isn’t the days of the Raj any more, and I think some of these old boys are going to have to be pushing up daisies before Britain finally starts to deal with the world as it is in 2017 rather than as it was in the 1950s. Having shitloads of money just seems to insulate you from some of these realities.

    I had a really great choice in this election of nothing I like at all. One the one hand is the Maybot going Brexit means Brexit and on t’other side we have somebody who was probably a closet Brexiteer anyway. I had the choice between something I never asked to happen and a genial but ineffective old buffer that reminds me of other aspects of socialism in the 1970s like that creep Arthur Scargill and his band of merry thugs flying pickets exercising their God-given right to stop other people working because they had the power of force.

    A plague on both your houses

    But we seemed to have had a general election with no overall winner, which was probably the best result for my views, although what I voted for was lost, so thank you the rest of the British public. It seems the despicable rightwing press was largely ignored in their seething spewage. The Tories buggered this up in the first place by having a Brexit referendum at all, and now seem to have lost a lot of their pre-Brexit majority. Good for Theresa May returning to the electorate after such a big change in the background 😉

    Theresa May’s WTF? expression

    But what I feared more than a Tory landslide was a Corbyn majority. Corbyn has done well and hopefully will do his job in diluting the Empire-dreaming hard Brexiters. It’s not a good result, but it’s probably the least worst. You sowed the wind, Tory PM Cameron, with you damned manifesto promise of an EU referendum. Now the hard Brexit nut-jobs have reaped the whirlwind by being just too full of cock. Maybe we’ll have to try and talk in a civilised way about Brexit, rather than revel in the arrogance of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’

    Oh and though I had no part in it since I couldn’t bring myself to vote Corbyn, I am pleased that

    Labour’s gains included the symbolic toppling in Ipswich of Ben Gummer, the author of the Conservative manifesto.

    It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good 😉

     
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