Recommended reads

A break with tradition and I’m telling you about some recent books wot I have read, and it’s not the end of the summer holidays.  I hardly manage to read books these days – and what I’m saying with that is that I don’t make it enough of a priority. As a friend said at work: you manage to find hours to spend with your phone. I have a few mental pictures of the life I’d like to lead – in bed by 9.30 and reading for an hour; cooking Sunday lunch every week and sipping sherry to the Food Programme (empty your glass if you hear “Chorley-Wood bread process”).  The only thing stopping any of these things happening is me.

The books below are books recommended to me that I have (mostly) totally enjoyed and want to pass on.

My friends at work were raving about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I think they were initially reluctant to recommend because it’s not classicly a boy book and it has been pigeonholed a bit as chick lit. I need to read about outside my comfort zone anyway (mostly nothing but crime!) and they did point out it was a short book and would not take me long.  Amazon’s Kindle preview thing lets you download the first chapter and see how you get along, so I read the first few pages on my phone in my classroom before going home one weekend – paid there and then and finished it in a couple of sittings – with kindle and pint in Wetherspoons running up to midnight on Friday night, and then in bed on Saturday morning.  It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever read and it’s fab.  Eleanor is clearly on the spectrum and is a wonderful, spiky, unique, unreliable narrator.  The story unfolds with some complete bouleversements (hmm… is that not actually an English word?) unexpected changes in direction. It’s very hard to review without giving too much away, so you just have to read it, it’s amazing!

My friends at pudding club were raving about Magpie Murders. So much so they didn’t let me leave without pushing it into my hands and saying you must read this!  I took it to France over Easter but didn’t have a chance to read it before returning, so took a day on bed after to do nothing but read and again polished this off in super quick time. It’s a return to crime fiction but again it’s a book that gives you unexpected twists. It’s a book within a book – most of the story is a crime novel by a character within the wider text – so just by flicking through it you see two different typefaces. The metatext has all sorts of fun games to play with the story within, and you get two crime narratives for the price of one. Again, highly recommended and puts me in mind of reading more Anthony Horowitz – I might even borrow some Alex Rider from the school library.

Finally one of my friends from the language teachers who lunch collective recommended Holy Island by LJ Ross, and I’m sorry to say this is not something I would recommend at all. It’s the first in a series of crime fic / police procedural with a lead character with a back story, DCI Ryan. I found the writing overblown and clunky and there’s an obvious, heavily signposted romance between the detective and a female cult expert bussed in from a nearby university which is completely at odds with common sense and lead me to some heavy eye rolling. Then, guess what, the woman finds herself in peril with the police officer battling the odds, the weather and the antagonist(s) in the heavy-handed dénouement. I’m not in any hurry to read any more, didn’t read the “first chapter in next book” that I got free with this one and I was very happy finally to finish this story after months of it clogging up my kindle.

Coming up next – I moved straight from Holy Island to a welcome return to P D James – A Certain Justice, and will hopefully finish this afternoon, then I have been preparing some free sample chapters to see where we move next. Stephen Tall raved about Kate Atkinson so I’ve a chapter from one of her books. I heard a radio review of The Power and have been intrigued by the premise for months – “Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death.” – how different would the world be if no-one could argue with or abuse teenage girls!? An interview in the Guardian with David Sedaris has a throwaway recommendation for a book by Rebecca Front – he doesn’t appear to know who she is!  Someone – I now can’t remember who – recommended Mythago Wood, but it’s set in Herefordshire, so that’s reason enough to read it too.

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A quick trip to Brittany

Popped across to France during the Easter holidays for slightly less than a week at HPB Manoir du Hilguy in the outskirts of Quimper, the capital of Brittany on the west coast of France.

Booked at short notice, we were due to stay Wednesday to Wednesday, so the first surprise of the holiday was that there are no night sailings into Roscoff or St Malo on Wednesdays with Brittany Ferries – of all their long channel crossings, only Portsmouth-Caen runs on Wednesday nights. So the crossing out was nearly fully booked and we could only get reclining seats, not a cabin; and there was a long drive across the top of France to get to digs on the first day.

Travelling in through Normandy had its advantages too – my companion had never been to this part of the world before so it opened up opportunities for me to revisit some of the treasures of Normandy again. On the way from Caen to Quimper, we stopped off at the Bayeux tapestry. I have seen this before but could remember nothing of it, so was very happy to troll around the embroidery again. I had completely forgotten the cause of the Norman invasion in the years running up to it – Harald swearing and reneging on an oath – and all the filthy rude pictures around the edges were entertaining too.

A bit of a running theme throughout the visit was value for money. We felt many things of equivalent cultural importance in the UK would cost an awful lot more to visit. The thousand-year-old treasure of the first cost us under a tenner to see.

A second running theme though is opening hours and availability. Lots of the things we were interested in were not yet open for the season. Of all the HPB properties, only Hilguy is shut down for the winter, because not enough people visit to make it viable to keep open. But you can kinda see why – the weather forecast was terrible for our visit and many of the attractions in that part of the world are only open June-September.

On our way from Bayeux to Quimper, I took T to see the Château de Balleroy, Normandy home of the Forbes magnate. We could only glimpse through the gates as the castle doesn’t start doing visits until April.

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Long drive onwards, arrived at Hilguy early afternoon. Quick nap, evening meal in the bistro onsite, long sleep.

First full day, after a lie in, leisurely breakfast and first experience with the Hilguy bread delivery (it’s awesome tasty bread, but you have to get to reception early enough in the afternoon to order it!) out to Quimper, a beautiful city with tricky parking. We found a space immediately in a car park across the river from the cathedral, but could only stop there for a few hours, on threat of high fines if you overstay your time by only a minute. We had better than expected weather which allowed us to walk the streets, including the Rue des Gentilhommes …

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…and Place au Beurre (Butter Square) – where there were at least 5 crêperies all doing good business.

Hilguy hol panoramas

(I had been in this square 9 years previously but had no recollection of it.) We stopped in a delightful pancake shop which was very busy, full of French patrons, and had a delicious lunch. I was expecting to order a galette but the slightly frosty menu explained that this is a Norman thing – in Brittany, you have a crêpe au blé noir. I went for a “complète” and added creamy mushrooms – egg, ham, cheese, mushrooms.

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I also wanted a pudding so went for a pancake “au froment” – I wrongly assumed this meant fermented, but it’s just the French for wheat. They made their own caramels, so I had a coffee flavoured caramel pancake and it was da bomb.

Hilguy hol 2018

As we arrived the cathedral had been closed, but the doors were open after our lunch, so we went in for a visit. It’s dedicated to St Corentin of Quimper, a hermit who lived in the woods. He was blessed with a miraculous salmon that jumped out of a fountain at his prayer, and miraculously replaced any flesh that was sliced off it.  The wikipedia page for the cathedral is incredibly detailed and helps as a guided tour.

The cathedral has a kink in the middle, because they found they couldn’t put footings in the swamp when they were building it.

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We visited on Good Friday, so the statues were veiled.

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There was a fab bay with an interesting story of a pilgrim who had entrusted his fortune to a friend whilst off gallivanting. On his return, his friend had pretended not to know where the money was and refused to give it back. There was a tribunal when his friend continued his lies in front of lay judges. At this point a statue of the crucifix began bleeding, and the friend gave the money back. The bay had a stained glass window depicting this, as well as a reliquary holding the head of the mediaeval statue which bled, and the cloth it bled onto.

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Out of the cathedral, with the parking clock ticking, we had a choice between a fine art museum and a museum of Breton life, and chose the latter, in the Bishop’s Palace right next door. Lots of lovely furniture, ceramics and costumes, including lots of information about Breton women’s headdresses. An exhibition of a female illustrator of children’s books and her other paintings.

Hilguy hol 2018

Back to car, supermarket trip, home, dinner.  It was Good Friday and the TV ads had been banging on about lamb for weeks, so I bought a leg of lamb with the intention of roasting it one night and using the leftovers for shepherd’s pie on another occasion.

Hilguy hol 2018

Hilguy hol 2018

The second day, we were in pursuit of a nice castle, but were hampered in that a lot of the obvious places to try were not yet open for the season, or closed because of Easter. One in particular was Keriolet, “a Russian princess’s dream” but we didn’t get to go there at all. At reception, they explained that Brittany was a poorer region, not many châteaux, many more manors.

We eventually set out for the Domaine du Trévarez – I didn’t know much about it on the way. We arrived before it opened for the afternoon, so went for a bit of a drive, and walked around what felt like a ghost town of Châteauneuf du Faou, a town on a hill overlooking a bend in the river. We peeked around two churches and got back in the car.

Trévarez felt like it was ready for a huge number of visitors – vast carparks – but we were the first to arrive and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  It was built in the 1850s – at much the same time as the houses of Parliament and St Pancras, and had a similar sort of vibe. The architecture looked back to the 1700s but more modern techniques of construction were used, such as iron frames, and this was an early example of electricity (powered from a steam generator in the stable block), central heating, and fully indoor plumbing. The exterior of the castle had been perfectly restored, but the interior was very limited, and showed the damage done as the Allies bombed it in 1944, to try and remove the Nazis who had set up shop there.

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The gardens were amazing, with heather and camellias in abundance.

Hilguy hol panoramas

There was a nice caff with some trad Breton cakes and biscuits.

We snacked on cheese and salad, and delicious pots à la crème which I always look out for in France.

 

April 1st, Easter Sunday, was the worst of the weather, so we set a course for Brest, and the largely indoor Océanopolis, a massive aquarium. I had been there before, before I became a teacher, and was hugely struck to find “bassin de requins” – shark pool – a phrase I use in my teaching. I must have internalised it last time I was there.

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There are three pavilions – tropical and coral, arctic and local – with long exhibitions around each of these themes. It’s not perfect for a wet weather day as there are still uncovered walks from the car park to the tanks and between each various bit but it was the best way to spend a day with really atrocious rain.

We came back via the bakery Paul just outside the aquarium for a late lunch, and in the evening availed ourselves of the wood-fired pizza van which visited site.

Monday we visited Concarneau, an extremely picturesque fishing town. The Old Port is a walled fortress with ramparts, and the sun came out while we were there.

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The Old Port itself is a real tourist trap with lots of ice-cream and sweet shops, and the last word in knick-knackery and Breton tourist tat.

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We took a slow route home via Pont l’Abbé where we visited a brocante, a statue and a looked at the strange tower on the church.

Hilguy hol 2018

Also a statue of five ages of women all mourning dead sailor fishermen fathers and husbands.

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We also took in a classic Breton beach with impressive kite surfers, and tried to imagine how nice it would be at the height of summer.

 

We drove over a huge viaduct over an inlet and stopped to walk back over it to take photos.

Hilguy hol 2018

Tuesday we started at Audierne for a bit of a wander – churches, graveyards, marinas, delicious crêpes where I was a bit more adventurous with ingredients.

Then on to the Pointe du Raz – not quite the most westerly point of France, but very close. Very picturesque coastal walk.

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Statue of Our Lady of the Shipwrecked

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Down the road from the Pointe du Raz is the most gorgeous Baie des trépassés – we came down to sunshine, shelter from the wind at the cliff top, but huge green waves and surfer dudes taking advantage.

Baie des trépassés surfers pano

Hilguy hol 2018

Then to a flying visit to Dournanez. Another place I could not remember, but on return, found I had taken almost identical photos. We arrived too late, but there is a shipping museum here where you can walk around the boats, based on the town’s vital sardine industry.

Our final day was the long drive back to Caen for the overnight ferry, but with 12 hours to kill between being kicked out of digs near Quimper and checking in at Ouistreham.

Before we left we took some final pics of the manor.

Hilguy hol panoramas

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Four hours driving was split up with a visit to Mont St Michel. Again, I place I have visited before but have little memory of. I think in my mind I was muddling the abbey at the top with another city… Prague perhaps? as what we saw up there rang no bells at all for me.  The ramparts and the tourist shops on the way up were familiar, but since the last time I went they have built some serious infrastructure – distant car parks and free shuttle busses were all new.  As with the Bayeux tapestry, visiting this world class, UNESCO monument, was actually not very expensive at all.

We had had patchy weather on the drive, but the sun came out as we arrived so we got some fabulous photos.

Hilguy hol 2018

It started to rain as we were there but that more or less coincided with arriving at the abbey for the indoor part of the tour.

The worst of rain was happening as they practised an evacuation drill – we were taken out of the Salle des Chevaliers down a staircase only used in emergencies and swept out of the building by women with “evac” armbands. Getting out of the building was the hardest part because people were extremely reluctant to leave given how hard it was raining.

Hilguy hol 2018

Our timetable allowed us a really brief visit to central Caen. I set the satnav for the Abbaye aux Hommes and we dove into the Hôtel de Ville car park with a plan for a quick walk and a nice bistro, but as we were leaving I saw a sign saying the car park closed at 8, so take your parking ticket with you. Unsure if that meant we would get the car trapped and be unable to catch the ferry, we ended up with a whistlestop tour around some of the monuments before heading out of town to Flunch for our last dinner in France.

Hilguy hol 2018

Something Olympic was going on at the Hôtel de Ville.

Hilguy hol 2018

Since I had not been able to get a cabin on the outward trip, I sprang for a luxury cabin – with a window! – for the return, and after a day of driving with another in prospect, it was a bit of a relief to be able to board the ferry, go the cabin, and just stay there all night!

 

Reconstruct a paragraph (MFL)

A colleague I share a class with set this task for one of my lessons with younger students. They seemed to enjoy it a lot and I have subsequently used it with KS4 students – and added a twist.

It starts with a model answer to a 90 word GCSE question. You can either write your own, or I heartily recommend Kate Jones’s resources – her writing booklets have questions for every AQA theme and sub-topic, every style of question, and a full set of model answers.

Start with your model answer. Remove sentences so that it only answers 3 bullet points.  Add in sentences that are not relevant. Print it big (eg big enough to fit 3 A4 sheets landscape) and cut it into strips*. Get kids to sort back into paragraph order.

My most recent iteration of this task had a double sided worksheet with the mark scheme for a 90 word question on the back, and on the front, the question (in the target language, like in the exam) and a translation of the text they are aiming to build. Most students used this, and recognised at least one word per strip, which they could use to get their bearings through the paragraph, but the most able could hide this support and try to rebuild the sentences without it.

The worksheet also had these tasks:

  1. What do the 4 bullet points mean ?
  2. Reconstruct the text from the strips to form an answer to this question.  (You can use the English translation for support, or hide it if you prefer.)
  3. Assess the response using the markscheme on the back. Are all bullet points answered? What does this mean for the score it can get? Are all sentences relevant to the task?
  4. Redraft an answer to the question, based on the paragraph you have reconstructed. Eliminate anything irrelevant. Add in some sentences to cover any bullet points not already answered.
  5. Higher students – what super structures and fancy phrases could you add to this to improve it to the point where it would be an answer to the 150 word question?
  6. What topic specific vocab is there in this text that you didn’t know? What structures can you find that could be used in lots of different topics?

* To speed up the cutting, you can prep the photocopier with a pile of coloured sheets in the bypass tray, eg 3 yellow, 3 blue, 3 pink, 3 orange. Copy onto those sheets then cut up all 12 in one go and separate  out by colour.

Ringers’ dinner II

Last weekend I threw the house open to the lovely people in my tower for our now annual Christmas social. We initially decided we ought to have a Christmas social but that everyone’s diary in December is too hectic, so we have ours in February instead.

I like cooking for people and having people in my house but I actually don’t do it very often, so it’s nice to have an excuse.

Ringers' supper 2018

(Laid the table before counting properly AGAIN! and had to put an extra place setting in at the last minute.)

I thought that the menu had not evolved much from last year, but looking back it seems I did simplify quite a bit.  I did the mulled apple juice again and offered some of the crab apple vodka to those who were both not driving and suitably aged.

Ringers' supper 2018

It’s been cold this year, so I didn’t want to do cold starters and desserts again, and so went for a slightly ambitious three cooked courses.  Crudités were still the main feature of the starter, then I was initially thinking fondue… but it would be hard to put the pot where everyone could reach it, so went for two separate baked camemberts so that each half of the table could reach. I was planning for 8 but one of us was ill on the night and we were 7 instead.  Two vegetarians amongst our numbers and I was conscious that anything properly called camembert is by AOC definition not vegetarian, so there was some hummus available instead.

The mains as last year were baked potatoes with beans, cheese (veggie cheddar), sausages and Quorn sausages and homemade coleslaw.

I actually took hardly any photos this year, but I did take quite a lot of the dessert. I was making Simon Hopkinson’s sticky toffee pudding – I blogged about it before in 2013 and the recipe is still on the BBC, and it’s still decadent and delicious. The basic recipe says serves 4, and the only way that is true is if you don’t eat anything else for an entire weekend.  I still doubled it and cooked it in a disposable foil roasting tin for a dessert that fed 7 people on the night, did doggy bags to take for absent partners, fed my neighbours who liked the photo on Facebook, and did me and T the following day.  I still have spare ingredients and I’m making it again today for half term pudding club tomorrow 🙂

In its doubled up form you end up needing to buy over a litre of cream!

Ringers' supper 2018

The basic date sponge cooked the night before.

Ringers' supper 2018

With the first sticky toffee sauce poured over the top then put back under the grill.

Ringers' supper 2018

Loads of leftovers!

I also made fudge – this Nigella recipe ish. There weren’t shelled pistachios available when I went shopping and I didn’t fancy shelling 150 grams myself, so I just used chopped hazelnuts. And glacé cherries, because why not?  And then, having made fudge, and having been given two boxes of After Eights… I forgot to bring either of them out with the tea and coffee! So there were loads leftover which made nice end of term gifts at school for colleagues instead as well as satisfying my own chocolate craving whenever I walk past the fridge.

Ringers' supper 2018

 

 

Quiz quiz trade revisited

Over – gulp – five years ago I wrote this blog about things I’d tried in the classroom and enjoyed, or felt beneficial.  Most of them I no longer do. I’ve lost my dice, somehow.  It’s quite moving to reread my own enthusiasm from my NQT year.

Snakes and ladders I recently did again as a no-planning revision activity that worked quite well, but we had to borrow dice from a colleague when I discovered halfway through the lesson that mine were missing. It involved a plain snakes and ladders grid with the numbers 1-30. Students spend the first half of the lesson in pairs producing 30 target language sentences with their English language translation, then the second half with another pair playing snakes and ladders. To successfully land on a square a student has to do the translation from the other pair’s list. This has the benefit of a) making them look in their books for 30 minutes and b) getting them to encounter slightly less familiar language from someone else’s book. Mine were a young class so I relented and they did 15 key words from the topic and 15 sentences.

Top tip on dice – buy foam dice. They’re cheaper, and they make much less noise than a class set of heavier ones.

Anyway, quiz quiz trade.  I have quite a lot of sets of cards I have made and I still use this fairly regularly with most of my classes. The  basics are in my original post, link above, and there’s a one-slide instruction powerpoint included in my TES resource on where you live in German.

If you are struggling with students going off task whilst doing this (it’s a moving around the room task, some students use this as an excuse to natter) here are some strategies:

Employ a TL police officer – allocate one student to take names of people not doing the task properly and have a moderate sanction.  I’m sure you can think of a child in every class who is reasonably well liked but who would jump at the chance to dob in classmates. #stanfordprisonexperiment

Set a target – each person must trade at least 7 times in the next 5 minutes.

Join in – have a card yourself and be part of the activity.

Make explicit what they need to know –  there will be a quiz at the end and if you don’t know then sanction.

Deploy inside/outside circles – if you feel the need to be much more in control then instead of allowing the students to roam freely, you put them two lines facing each other and then control who moves, eg one person from line A goes from bottom to top, line B doesn’t move. Everyone does their trade simultaneously then they move as instructed.

Have a plan for what to do at the end. – eg recently I was practising opinions about school uniform in German that practised a variety of opinion structures: ich mag / ich mag… nicht. Ich liebe/ich hasse … gefällt mir (nicht). ich trage (nicht) gern.  At the end they needed to write down 8 examples that got one of each structure.

Anyway, the main point of this was to talk about a series of QQT activities I have been doing recently and enjoying and which the students seem to have got a lot out of too. It can be quite time consuming…

The start of this has to be where the entire class has been writing their own sentences using reasonably constrained vocab – enough for everyone to have written personal sentences, but so that everyone has used the same core language and no-one has gone massively off-piste and written something so personal no-one else will be able to understand it.

For example, a German class has been writing opinions about food and using adjectives to make comparisons. So they have all been working with the same opinion structures, the same list of food words, the same list of describing words – delicious, deliciouser, crispy, crispier, juicy, juicier.  With some support they can all recognise all of these words and structures.

From the sentences you then get the students to write their own QQT cards with TL sentence at the top and English at the bottom, and, crucially a big space in the middle. I havae been doing this on single-sided A5 scrap paper.  (The first few times this takes quite a bit of explanation, but we get there eventually.)

They play QQT as the plenary to one lesson, and then you collect in the sheets as they leave.  You then divide the English from the TL and sort through the TL to make any corrections as necessary.  I have also been typing up the list of TL sentences for use later on.

The following lesson, students collect TL and English sentences at random so that each student sentences which do not match.  Whilst you take the register they think in silence about what each of their sentences would be in the other language.

The actual activity is then aural dominoes / follow me. A student reads her TL sentence, all students look at what they have in front of them, and the person who has the English puts their hand up, reads it out and moves on with their own TL sentence.

In the classes I’ve done this with recently, it’s been quite engaging. Easily enough to get students past their natural antipathy of speaking foreign out loud and almost enough to get a chatty class quiet. In one younger class where it took longer than 25 minutes and I felt it was dragging a bit, I tried to end it prematurely only to have the students insist we continue to the grim end and give every single person the opportunity to read their TL sentence out loud.

And the typed up selection of sentences?  So far I’ve used them in a couple of ways. One class needed refresher revision – they did the first stages before Christmas, and then after the holidays I gave them a selection of sentences back as a translation task.  For another I am holding onto them and plan to use them for the 1 pen, 1 dice translation task that is presently all the rage.

Solar panel performance – 2016 and 2017

Forgive me reader, it’s been over two years since I last blogged the annual performance of my solar panel.

Solar panel update 11/1/18

A photo this time rather than a screen shot as since I upgraded my computer I have been unable to re-download the software that would allow me to connect my new computer to the controller. This is rather annoying because I paid extra for the computer control facility.

Rather suspiciously, the controller reports almost identical kWh outputs for the last two years, although that is lower than the previous three.

I will estimate it as 2,700 kWh per year. Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from last month now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. I use the gas rate of 4.6p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas.

That means the solar panel gathered around £124 of energy in each of 2016 and 2017.

The running total to the end of 2016 is therefore £1,508 and at the end of 2017, £1,632.

September will see the eleventh year of operation. When it was installed, we needed to put in a new hot water tank which was bigger than the old one, so the installers had to demolish my airing cupboard to fit it in. In the eleven years since, I have yet to sort it out.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to that figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

If you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”

Best nine 2017

Just as last year, I intended to sneak some of these off the amazing colour printers at work, and just never managed to get that done before breaking up. So the Christmas cards went out with no newsletter and I’ll just have to hope you read it here and care.

Quite a hard job narrowing it down to 9 photos this year!

bestnine2017

New Year in Glencoe in 2016 – up to the NE coast of Scotland to Torridon for 2017/8

Fudge the cat is old and ill and we are getting used to two tablets a day.

Holiday in Wales in Feb, some lovely but cold walking on the Gower peninsula

Went from crew cut to quiff during the year… but now what?

Attempted some interior design and made a feature on my landing of the sign that used to be over my grandfather’s shop

Attended an awesome wedding as my cousin on my mother’s side of the family got married

Bought a new tent and didn’t use it enough. Wanna go camping in 2018?

Took my brother, father, sister-in-law and all three nephews to Madeira

Refreshed soul and wine rack on a trip to Normandy in the October half term.

 

2018… August in Norwich… 40th birthday approaching…