Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Over the last two days...

Monday, 29th July 2013:

Well bloody hell. I said in my last post that it would be hard work. It's slow going. Weeding and harvesting are straightforward enough, but digging the beds to about a spades depth and bagging the soil is hard work. In about 3 hours this afternoon, I managed to do perhaps 1% of the digging.

Once all that digging is done, laying membrane, filling bags, and planting stuff in them should be much easier.

I'm wondering about having some kind of allotment party. Anyone that wants to come along and do a bit is welcome to, and I will provide a barbecue and drinks and what have you. Not sure how many people would or could take part, but it might be worth an ask on facebook or something. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the people who'd be prepared to help.

Tuesday 30th July 2013:

I managed to get a couple of hours in this evening. Yesterday, I tried filling bags directly as I dug soil from the ground, but this is an exasperating experience on your own. The bags flop this way and that, and as much soil tends to end up on the floor as in the bag. I had a large flexible plastic bucket and spading the soil into that was much quicker, and I could then transfer the soil from the bucket into the bags. This though, is extremely inefficient. Kicking sand from beach to beach. The solution was obvious. - Go buy a load of big flexibuckets. I ended up with about 7 or 8 of these buckets, and made much quicker time after getting them. That's about all I need of them. As I dig out a square metre or so, I have space to extend the membrane, and plonk down another big bag, which then gets big buckets chucked into it. Thus freeing the buckets for another load. All these buckets have cost me over £40. The membrane cost about another £40. The builders bags have so far cost about £50 quid or so. For that I've ended up with, I think, 28 or 29 of them. Enough to cover 28 or 29 square Metres of plot. So far that's a total of about £130, but I need a lot more bags yet. Perhaps as many as 100. At an average of even just £1 per bag, that's still another £100. More likely £200 unless I get lucky with freecycle. About £300 to really turn the plot from nothing into something.

I've managed to get a couple of big bags down and filled this evening. Pictures follow...

The bags, being more or less uniform is size and construction, can be modified in standardised ways. Different plants have different needs. It will be simple to construct some kind of cage for things like berries and cherries that the birds like to scoff. Some bamboo poles and a bit of mesh or chickenwire will work. If something needs to climb, constructing a trellis or other support should be simple. Bags that are not being cultivated can be covered over with a lightproof cover to prevent weed growth. One square metre at a time.

I feel pretty good about this. I just know it will work well. I am motivated both to get to the plot, and with a clear plan in place, to word hard when I get there. Tomorrow, my car is in for a service, and I shall spend most of the day there.

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Monday, 29 July 2013

Loam alone.

Today I have been to the allotment, not once but twice. This dinnertime, I mined the loam heap. When we first got the plot, the soil was thick with grass roots. Much of it went in a big pile, and we put a tarp over the pile and just left it. The roots are still there, but they should be dead now. The soil and roots have a nice fibrous texture. I dug a load out, and put it in bags. The pile is down the far end, and I'm handing that bit back, so I do want to get as much of this loam as I can, while I still can.

Second time was later on. I went to pick up some of the big builder's bags I'd got from ebay. I got 19 of them for 50 quid, and I also got another 9 via freecycle. In my mind's eye, they were all white, but I've ended up with a range of different colours. That's 28 square metres of my plot capable of being converted to my new way of doing things. I dug up the first early spuds from the front of my plot, and did a bit of weeding of the bed the spuds had been in. Then I covered it with weed suppressing membrane. Tomorrow, I will be taking the membrane back off, and digging out a lot of the soil. The membrane will go into the shallow indentation, and these big bags will go on top of that. Into the big bags will go the soil I dug from beneath them, loam, and if possible, a load of horse manure. Then repeat until end of plot is reached.

1. Harvest/Weed.
2. Dig out soil.
3. Lay out membrane and cut to length.
4. Put big bags on top of membrane.
5. Fill bags with soil/loam/poo.
6. Plant stuff in them.

A lot of hard work, but hopefully worth it.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

12 months, 1 graph

I worked out my tax today. It's something I had to get done before the end of the month in order to claim working tax credit.

I added up the monthly columns of money earned and put them into a graph.

The low point in April 2012 is partly due to the tax year running from the 6th April. The high figure in July 2012 was caused by several people paying for a lot of lessons up front. The dip in income during August and September is also a result of this. The dip in December is normal and perennial.

And as you can see, come the new year, things started picking up nicely. I stopped at 5th April 2013, but I'd imagine that when I do come to tabulate this part of my diary, it will continue to rise still further, then plateau at perhaps £3,000 a month. This figure takes no account of outgoings.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Walking through Walls


1. Go to a city on Google Earth. One with lots of 3D buildings.
2. Make sure the "slow world when spinning" thing in the options menu is turned off.
3. Move things around until the horizon is in the lower half of your screen,
4. Drag mouse, sending Google Earth on a flythrough of the local terrain.

This I am doing, and folks, the result is beautiful and strange.

The 3d buildings sometimes have time to download and resolve. Sometimes they only get part of the way. The overall impression is abstract, impressionistic, and slightly garish.

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Monday, 22 July 2013

A cover up!

Tonight, I have purchased 45 metres of weed suppressant polypropelene, which I will be covering a large part of my plot with. The sheeting will be covered in containers of one kind or another. Builders bags  might be a good way forward. I estimate that around 132* of them should suffice. Folded down, and filled with soil, these bags will make 85cm square raised beds, which should then be very productive.

A couple of months ago, while I was on the allotment, I was given an old tyre. This was a big wide slick tyre off some kind of track car. I've been growing carrots and beetroot in it, and they've flourished, unlike many of the plants in the rest of the plot. I will be keeping a small bit uncovered, where the fruit trees and rhubarb are, but as the current bits get harvested, they will be covered over and I will begin the roll-out of a new, modular system of crop production.

*I paced out the plot. It measures 20 x 7 metres.  I'm going to allow 5 metres for the fruit trees and rhubarb. So 15 x 7 metres minus a bit for paths divided by 0.85 gives about 132. I may have a few left over, or have to do something different with a few square metres.

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Thursday, 18 July 2013

From here, where?

I knew straight away.

Almost immediately after Tom had done my new website, I had my first phone call, then just a day or so later, my second.

After years spent scraping my financial arse along the ground, some seismic change was occurring. And straight away, it felt different to what had gone before. I knew, even before my work really went ballistic that things were suddenly how I'd envisioned them to be at the beginning. And so it's proved to be. I will be doing more than 40 hours work this week, not including the time spent travelling between lessons, and I really don't want to go much beyond where I am now.

In an organic sense, the work is self limiting. If someone phones up for lessons, and I tell them I can fit them in a week next Tuesday, they're going to go elsewhere, unless they're calling me because I've been recommended to them by one of my pupils. My work, by the way, comes entirely via word of mouth and through organic web searches. My weekly spending on paid advertising is zero, although some costs do arise from time to time, such as renewing my internet domain or stocking up on business/appointment cards.

If I choose to just let things go on as they are, I will continue to be busy for the next few months, with a bit of a dip in December, followed by a surge in the New Year. But what are my other options?

The most straightforward thing I could do to counteract this ever increasing workload is to put my prices up.

The more ambitious thing to do would be to take on other instructors. Take money from them each week in exchange for providing them with pupils. This, done properly, is where the real money is at. I've been on the other side of this situation before, paying others to earn a living.

Just as an aside, by the way, I was talking to another instructor. Someone who I've known for a long time. He has worked for a local franchise for quite a few years now, mentioning no names. He told me that he is paying £135 a week to the franchise owner, but both himself and the owner are declaring £50 a week. This particular franchise owner is doing ok for himself, thank you very much. He has over 70 instructors working under his name. Once upon a time, their number included me. Let's do some ballpark maths here.
70 instructors paying £135 a week is £9450 a week. They get about 4 weeks a year franchise fee free, so multiply that by 48 and you get around £450,000 a year income. To get the work that keeps the instructors paying the franchise costs around £100,000 a year in advertising, leaving a net income before tax of around £350,000. Yet this guy doesn't feel he's rich enough yet, so to minimise his tax payment, he's getting his instructors to falsely account. 70 instructors paying £50 a week is £3,500 a week, or £168,000 a year. Minus that same £100,000 leaves a declared income of around £68,000. And all the while I was declaring my full £8-10k income. With other creative ruses, this guy, this muti millionaire, is probably paying less tax than I am.

I worked for/with this guy for a couple of years, and it did have it's compensations, for a while at least.

But without being particularly greedy,

If I have 4 instructors working under my banner, paying me £100 a week each, and I spend £200 a week on google or whatever, and I employ Bren to deal with the admin, an extra £200 a week could be coming into our household without me having to do a whole load of extra work.

My personal deadly sin is not greed. It's sloth. My work sort of isn't work, because I enjoy it and am constantly fulfilled by it. I am my own boss, I make all my own decisions, and I stand or fall by them. I am not alienated, in the Marxist sense. This fulfillment is what's kept me flogging this dead horse through thin and thinner for the last 8 years. So I'm far happier to do this than I would be to slog my bollocks off in a factory or office, even if I was better off with the steady income of a "proper" job.

So to the idea that if you work hard enough, you'll make it...

The reason things have taken off for me are because of a particular set of precise circumstances.

One of my pupils happened to be about to marry an extremely competent web designer. I exchanged lessojns for a website. That's all. Just luck. If I'd worked just as hard but never encountered these people, my fortunes wouldn't have changed, no matter how much effort I was putting in. Despite my earlier statement, I wasn't poor because I was lazy. I was poor because I was struggling to make my voice heard above the din.

For now, I will be taking no action. I want a full year to go by from when I got my shiny new website, so that I can take a close look at what patterns there are to be discerned. Come new year, I may well start advertising on my site for other instructors, or possibly to apprentice someone.

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Sunday, 14 July 2013

a kmz from the cloud

just wondering. I have 5Gb of cloud storage thanks to having an account at amazon. Can I use it to supply links to here?

If it works, clicking this bit here will send you to some place in Eastern Greenland.

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Democracy on other planets

The flying saucer in which Ford Prefect had stowed away had stunned the world.
Finally there was no doubt, no possibility of mistake, no hallucinations, no mysterious CIA agents found floating in reservoirs.
This time it was real, it was definite. It was quite definitely definite.
It had come down with a wonderful disregard for anything beneath it and crushed a large area of some of the most expensive real estate in the world, including much of Harrods.
The thing was massive, nearly a mile across, some said, dull silver in colour, pitted, scorched and disfigured with the scars of unnumbered vicious space battles fought with savage forces by the light of suns unknown to man.
A hatchway opened, crashed down through the Harrods Food Halls, demolished Harvey Nicholls, and with a final grinding scream of tortured architecture, toppled the Sheraton Park Tower.
After a long, heart-stopping moment of internal crashes and grumbles of rending machinery, there marched from it, down the ramp, an immense silver robot, a hundred feet tall.
It held up a hand.
``I come in peace,'' it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, ``take me to your Lizard.''
Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the non-stop frenetic news reports on the television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.
``It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see ...''
``You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?''
``No,'' said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, ``nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards role the people.''
``Odd,'' said Arthur, ``I thought you said it was a democracy.''
``I did,'' said Ford. ``It is.''
``So,'' said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, ``why don't people get rid of the lizards?''
``It honestly doesn't occur to them,'' said Ford. ``They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.''
``You mean they actually vote for the lizards?''
``Oh yes,'' said Ford with a shrug, ``of course.''
``But,'' said Arthur, going for the big one again, ``why?''
``Because if they didn't vote for a lizard,'' said Ford, ``the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?''
``I said,'' said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, ``have you got any gin?''

Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

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Monday, 8 July 2013


One side effect of my workload increasing is that I haven't had time to go to the allotment. It's rapidly becoming waist high in grasses and weeds.

When ground is cleared, it tends to become recolonised firstly by colonising species, such as fireweed, thistles, dandelions, poppies, nettles, grasses, etc.

It's happening on my allotment, and it must have happened too, on the battlefields of France almost 100 years ago. The poppy, of course, has become a symbol of the sacrifice made by those that never returned. That a plant with strong analgesic and narcotic properties got the nod, rather than, say, the dandelion, is hardly surprising I suppose, on a battlefield.

But anyway, poppies can be prepared by drying, and made into tea, or smoked. People have died from doing so from time to time.

From what I can gather, the kind of poppies I have on the allotment are "Papaver somniferum", purple peony.

The "somniferum" bit indicates the presence of opiates. Funny old world isn't it? If I grew cannabis plants there, I'd be kicked off my plot, and probably prosecuted, yet I can grow opium with impunity.

Poppy tea is supposed to be helpful in suppressing restless leg syndrome. Presumably, it would help with migraines too. And presumably it can get you off your head. Not something I'd want to do regularly, as it would quickly lead to tolerance and withdrawal and all that, but I might just brew some up one day soon.

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Monday, 1 July 2013

m e s s a g e

I'm trying, without much success, to get a particular sound from from cyberspace onto my mobile phone.

The last bit is easy. Just connect my phone to my PC and transfer the file. I can then use it as the sound that occurs when I get a message.

The sound itself is a woman's voice saying "Message". It comes from an old game called Reunion. This was originally an Amiga game, but is also available as a DOS game, and is easy to obtain from sites such as abandonia.

Once unzipped, the sound file I am after is there in an audio folder, and is called "message.smp". .smp is I suppose short for "sample". None of the programs I have on my pc will play it. I've tried to record the sound in the game as a wave file, and then to isolate any bit where this sample is played, but somehow it's not being played.

Looking online for programs that will play it, I find I either have to pay a small fortune to Adobe for their Audition package, or I use some really dodgy looking apps. All for something very minor.

But if anyone just by chance should have this sample perhaps as an mp3 or .wav, I'd love to hear from you.

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