The flagpole is restored

the snapped flagpole in March 2007
the snapped flagpole in March 2007

In Spring 2006 we redecorated the wooden flagpole and at the same time repaired the pole where damp had got in around the bolt holes. It was obviously too late because in March 2007, after a slightly windy night the flagpole snapped and was found lying on the drive.

For some reason I took it upon myself to make a new flagpole.

The aim was to make a wooden flagpole that would last forever. Impossible I know, but you have to start somewhere! However the first challenge was where to find a pole. Generally timber merchants don’t stock 9m trees so, with some help, I contacted Mike Cameron a Forester in the Plashett Park Wood, East Sussex which is run for charitable purposes. Mike very kindly agreed to select a suitable Larch and prepare it.

two pieces of oak were selected for the flagpole base
two pieces of oak were selected for the flagpole base

Things were going well and by Oct 2007 the flagpole was ready for collection. The only problem was how to transport it. Although not ideal, the only method at my disposal of creating a 9m long vehicle was to take a boat on its trailer over to the wood and to return with the flagpole strapped down (6m in the boat and 3 over the towing vehicle). This made for a nerve-racking journey so much so that it never occurred to me to take a photograph.

preparing the Larch pole required filling and hours of sanding
preparing the Larch pole required filling and hours of sanding

As I looked at the tree, now back home, I did get a sinking feeling when I realised just how much work was going to be required to get this rough wood down to a paintable surface, despite Mike’s preparation work.

We needed to let the Larch age and so the flagpole project was put on one side with the exception of sourcing two pieces of oak for the base.

The other dilemma which needed solving in the meantime was where to put a flagpole. By the time the old one broke it was sandwiched between two fully grown trees meaning the flag never really flew. Several places were explored but none appeared right : too far from the house, too close to the house etc. Thankfully the problem resolved itself when a tree died in 2009 in what was to become the obvious place.

bolt holes in the Larch pole had stainless steel pipe lining bonded in place with epoxy resin
bolt holes in the Larch pole had stainless steel pipe lining bonded in place with epoxy resin

With the dead tree needing to come out it was time to get the flag pole prepared and the base constructed. Sadly the pole had dried too quickly and there was a significant amount of filling required, not to mention several days of sanding. Wood glue was drizzled into the bottom of the cracks and then a two-pack filler was used to fill and build up the surface.

each part of the base was fully decorated before assembly
each part of the base was fully decorated before assembly

The rough sawn oak also required a lot of sanding and I had the words of my school woodwork teacher ringing in my head about the importance of sanding right down to a fine grit and needing to do it again and again to seal the wood. So that is what we did.

Then each section of the base was decorated fully with Dulux Weathershield 8-year protection system – except instead of one coat of each the base received two coats of each. The base was then assembled leaving the hardest bit to last – drilling the holes!

The old flagpole had rotted where the pole’s bolt holes had been drilled. Inevitably moisture had crept in here. In an attempt to prevent this happening on the new flagpole a system was devised to line the hole and therefore fully seal the wood.

finally the new flag pole was ready and enthusiastic flag flying could begin
finally the new flag pole was ready and enthusiastic flag flying could begin

To do this, a larger diameter stainless steel pipe was inserted into the holes which was then bonded in place with epoxy resin. This was repeated for holes in both the pole and the base and had the added benefit of giving enough free play for the bolts to allow for minor inaccuracies in the hole alignment.

the original flagpole top and rope was salvaged, prepared and fitted to the new pole
the original flagpole top and rope was salvaged, prepared and fitted to the new pole

Despite taking the full force of the fall it was possible to salvage the original flagpole top with rope and pulley wheel. This was added to the Larch pole using the original coach screw and the alignment with the base planned.

The base was then set in concrete in the ground on a bed of gravel. A drainage pipe was set in the bottom of the concrete to prevent water getting trapped against the wood. The base was then left to set.

Finally on 2 Dec the pole was installed in the base and the flag flown again. It stands 8.9m tall.

Having not exactly been a ‘flag man’ I was never very interested in flying a flag except on occasional special events. However I now find myself wanting to fly a flag all the time. This has led to a great deal of research into what flag protocol is. My research seems to suggest that on the whole the British have a somewhat indifferent approach to flags and ‘flag flying’ in particular. This seems a shame but then I wouldn’t be in a hurry to adopt the slightly obsessive approach of some countries.

What we need is a flag we can be proud of and get excited about flying – any suggestions?

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Hedge laying is addictive

'The Crumblies' are here!

‘The Crumblies’ are here!

I have just had a new experience and it is addictive! This might sound a bit exaggerated when talking about hedge laying but I have caught the bug, off The Crumblies.

I hope to bring you the history of The Crumblies at some point but in broad terms they are a group of volunteers who have reached retirement but who wish to keep active and continue the tradition and skill of hedge laying while offering a public benefit. This in itself is inspirational in our modern times.

I came across them through Brandy Hole Copse and the work they have done to maintain and improve this nature reserve North West of Chichester. Here they manage tree growth and have also laid the Copse hedge beside the B2178.

St Mary's in 1929 with a tidier hedge.
St Mary's in 1929 with a managed hedge.

At about the same time I came across a photograph of the approach to St Mary’s Sennicotts on Chapel Lane. You will see from the black and white photograph a hedge at least under control.

Having discussed the idea with Peter he agreed they would tackle what probably amounted to the most challenging hedge in their history! What’s more they would start on his 80th birthday.

I agreed to help whenever possible and on my first outing I was hooked. We were fortunate to have a beautiful Autumn day and methodically we worked our way along the hedge. Selecting which growth to incorporate  in the new hedge and which bits to cut out. Then carefully cutting it enough to lay down, weaving between the stakes and trimming off the tail. The Crumblies are a great bunch to work with. They have a solid work ethic, they enjoy their work and each other’s company. They were very kind to let me join them and we all got stuck in – although I did keep stopping to take photographs because the finished effect is magical – pure English countryside at its finest: the mark of ‘handmade’ by men who take pride in their work.

I’ve included some photographs below and I will update you as we make progress.

The view of St Mary's from Chapel Lane before work starts.
The view of St Mary's from Chapel Lane before work starts.
The view of St Mary's opening up a little.
The view of St Mary's Sennicotts opening up a little.
Hand made tools - a Yew mallet over 15 years old and going strong.
Hand made tools - a Yew mallet over 15 years old and going strong.
Adding the hazel binders before cutting the tops from the stakes
Adding the hazel binders before cutting the tops from the stakes
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PHOTOboat Portfolio

PHOTOboat is a yacht and boat photography team. We undertake commissions of action on the water specialising in corporate entertainment, racing, marketing and PR, as well as private commission work.

We come as a team of three: boat, driver and photographer – to capture the best photographs, by getting close to the action.

Working with individuals or organisations, we offer a flexible service tailored to your requirements and objectives. With an extensive and instinctive understanding of boats, sailing and the sea, we capture the best of you and your boat

Visit our website here.

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Can you change the time of your ‘constitutional’

This one is for my sister-in-law – the only person who has admitted she reads any of this.

Some people do it whenever the need arises but quite a few people would call themselves ‘regular’ both in frequency and time of day.

Many people don’t mind when. But some are very precious about their regular appointment with the facilites. It is a sacred time of the day and therefore needs to be chosen carefully for optimum peace and quiet.

So is there an ability to choose this time. What if our circumstances change? Can we change ‘our time’?

I do have an interest in the answer to this question but on this occaison it’s not my timing I want to change but someon else’s.

You see the problem comes at the same time every day. Like clockwork I can almost guarantee that halfway through high-teatime, which we are trying to enjoy as a family meal, our youngest daughter has an explosion. The event destroys any enjoyment of our mealtime together. It has to be dealt with and on returning to the table you can guarantee you’ve lost your appetite.

So can it be done? Can you change some else’s timing and if so can someone please tell me how?

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Campaign to give a tax break for domestic PAYE employers.

Before I go any further I need to acknowledge that this is not an issue facing the majority of the population. However if addressed, I believe it could bring benefits to the wider society.

Listed Buildings need labour intensive care.

This concerns the issue of private individuals becoming employers to help them in private affairs and in particular maintaining privately owned Listed Buildings.

Currently the owner of the Listed building or garden earns income on which they pay Income Tax at various rates. If they choose to employ someone to help maintain the building or garden (domestic staff) they then have to pay those employees out of net income (that is left after tax has been paid), and then undertake the same Pay As You Earn administration (collecting the income tax from that employee and paying the employers share of the National Insurance) as would any other employer.

Here’s the issue: any employer running a business is able to set their employment costs against their income to reduce their tax, so why can’t owners of Listed Buildings or for that matter employers of domestic staff (nannies etc), whose employees are paid through the PAYE scheme get some sort of tax relief on their income for doing so.

It would be easy to administer because HMRC has records of both the employers and employees tax affairs. It should only work where employees are paid through PAYE. There are loads of benefits:

  1. This would encourage employment by making it more affordable for private individuals to employ staff in domestic, childcare, gardening, and property maintenance jobs.
  2. It would encourage employers to pay staff currently paid cash in hand into the PAYE system and probably increase tax revenues.
  3. It would be easy to administer as HMRC has all the records it needs to cross check claims by private employers.
  4. By encouraging individuals to employ domestic staff it would free up their time and encourage them to spend in the local economy.
  5. Owners of our heritage would be able to employ sufficient help to make it possible and desirable to open their properties/gardens on an occasional basis to the public.
  6. With more manpower employed in upkeep our heritage stock would be kept in a better state of repair.

There is a reason for mentioning the listed building element. Presumably the main case against such tax relief is that it lines the pockets of the already wealthy and is an unfair tax break. The Listed Building element addresses this. Owners of Listed Buildings provide a service of national benefit by maintaining the Nation’s Cultural Heritage. While they often get the benefit of living in attractive properties they are essentially unpaid private guardians, restricted in what they can do to reduce the costly maintenance of their properties because as a Nation we want them to preserve our past. As they get little or no financial assistance for this role and their properties usually require the most labour intensive form of upkeep it would appear not that unfair to assist them in the labour element of looking after our heritage.

And this is the shift in thinking proposed. To see this role in the same light as small businesses. To see the owners of these Listed Buildings as operating in the business of maintaining our heritage. So just as every other business in the country gets a tax break for encouraging employment and employing individuals to help it go about its business, then these private individuals should be given similar treatment and some form of reduction in their income tax liability where that income is going towards the employment of individuals to assist them in the maintenance of our Heritage.

Your comments would be appreciated in this debate.

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A little trip to Spain

El Bulli
El Bulli

So it was totally over indulgent and there are lots of sensible reasons why one shouldn’t have gone but from the moment Mr Arengo-Jones left the message on my phone I knew it wasn’t an opportunity you miss.

The next thing we knew there was a surreal moment of the four of us meeting at Heathrow and heading to Barcelona for a meal at El Bulli. The levels of expectation and excitment could only have meant we would be dissapointed by at least some of the 35 courses, or the atmosphere or the service, or something. So it is with some astonishment that I can say that every course exceeded almost anything I can remember ever eating.

The most usual question is, “what was on the menu?” Yet that is the wrong question because whatever the course was called the description doesn’t even begin to take you close to the experience. I have attached the menu here but I can guarantee it doesn’t tell you much. Which is why I put together this short video. It doesn’t describe the food because the words again are not sufficient but it gives you an idea of the atmosphere. As Olly said beforehand, “fizzing!”, and an experience not to be missed … whatever it takes

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Evinrude eTec outboard corrosion problems

The engine runs well
The corrosion

Has anyone else had an ongoing corrosion problem with Evinrude eTec engines?

The corrosion occurs on the mid section of the leg causing the paint to blister and flake off.

We have had this problem repaired twice already and in a matter of months the problem is back. The second repair involved the paint being properly baked on but still the problem returned.

We treat the engine with great care flushing it through regularly and keeping it stored under cover vertically (to drain fully). We are told the problem is isolated and no one else is having this problem with their eTec engine. Is this true?

We are running an eTec 200 (model number E200DHXSDS) with about 200 engine hours and the serial number is 05124808.

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Goodwood Revival 2009

Had a fantastic day out at Goodwood Revival on Sunday. This really is a world class event for its originality, class, atmosphere and authenticity. I haven’t been for a few years but as soon as I walked into the circuit and was hit by those unique motor racing smells and sounds of what are now classic cars I was taken back to a romantic age of boyhood awe and wonder.

I couldn’t help but think everyone must experience this place at least once in their lifetime and then again I could understand why most won’t and most won’t want to. Which got my thinking why people wouldn’t want to go to the Revival meeting and I have to admit there is something a bit exclusive about it. And by exclusive I don’t mean unattainable but more that people might feel excluded.

So I was wondering why that would be. Is it that you have to get dressed up? Well, as someone who will generally find myself at the back of the queue for anything fancy dress I can understand there is a bit of this – but this is not difficult fancy dress or embarrassing fancy dress.

What I did wonder is whether the photographs don’t capture the feel of the event. As I was walking around with my camera I thought I would have a go at trying to capture better the spirit of the event. Visually the event organisers do an amazing job of propping the event with period everything, right down to the details. So it is a fun place to take interesting photographs but my pictures, as you can see below, didn’t really improve on anything you can find in wide circulation.

But, when going through the photographs afterwards which include both crowd photographs and close ups I realised all the images, almost without fail, have something in common – no one is smiling. No one is exchanging a laugh with their neighbour somewhere in the background, wherever I looked. Don’t get me wrong, people are enjoying themselves but no one is smiling.

Thinking I had solved the problem of why one might not feel they would want to go to the Revival I went to the Goodwood website convinced I would find pictures without smiles. But alas I found smiles however I wasn’t convinced. Why? well because everyone who was smiling was dressed up with a ton of makeup and that made me think they were just actors – employed to smile!

I run the risk of sounding like I am being difficult here – maybe even obstinate. But I do think a photograph of the punters smiling and laughing is what’s needed but then did I have a great time – absolutely, but would you have got a picture of me smiling – probably not – what is all that about?

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Squeezing PAYE employers with the Simplified Deduction Scheme

The dreaded HMRC Employers CD-ROM

When you load the 2009 HMRC Employers CD-ROM you are greeted with this message, ‘A Helping Hand from HM Revenue & Customs’. I think this message is put there to rile all the HMRC customers who they seem incapable of helping.

Take for example PAYE and the Simplified Deduction Scheme. Here is a system where the responsibility to collect HMRC’s taxes was loaded onto the employer. BUT at the time this system was introduced it was recognised that employers of a single domestic employee should not be required to ‘man’ a system as onerous as that of a company employing 10 or more staff. Hence the Simplified Deduction Scheme, which was a scheme open to employers of domestic employees.

The SDS allowed the domestic employer to be spared the complicated forms and the requirement to know the tax system inside out because they completed simple forms and the tax office helped with the calculations and checked your ‘workings’.

Obviously this system couldn’t be open to all and so an upper earnings limit was put in.

And that is where the catch comes. In order to gradually reduce the number of employers on this system and force them into the full PAYE system the upper earnings limit appears to have never moved or at least it has risen well below the rate of wage inflation. The result is that unless you pay below a living wage for a full time employee there is no way in 2009 that a domestic employer could qualify to be on the Simplified Deduction Scheme.

So today a domestic employer with one gardener/housekeeper etc is either required to wade through the full HMRC Employers Pack and play around with extraordinarily inefficient ‘calculators’ on the Employers CD-ROM or pay a professional to calculate the tax for them.

Had HMRC been a privately run organisation with a focus on it’s clients needs it would, of course, realised the Web was the perfect opportunity to offer a simple online calculator for Domestic Employers. Instead the public sector machine rolls along using all its best know how to find ways of un-improving its service without anyone noticing.

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‘Future proofing’ the central heating

Over the years we have been blessed with a very reliable heating and hot water system at Sennicotts. However that has presented a problem: because it hasn’t broken it has never been upgraded. So of the two oil boilers the newer boiler was installed in the early 1960’s. The older boiler we’re not sure about but it is a coal fired unit which has had an oil burner added.

It would appear the last major system work was undertaken by White, Bays & White Ltd (52 Grafton Way, London W1) whose two framed, typed lists of valves and their function we still have and is still useful. This work was presumably done after the second world war.

I did undertake an analysis of oil consumption which in today’s thinking I am a little embarrassed to be sharing. However we were using somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 ltrs of kerosene annually just to heat the hot water and central heating. Of course there are plenty of much heaver users but the dissapointing bit was that neither the house nor the hot water were that warm!

The only controls we had on the system were power on and off to the boiler, a boiler thermostat and manual zoning via the valves for the heating. There were no room thermostats and no timer. The warmest rooms in the house were those adjascent to the chimney breast and a quarter of the house had no central heating.

On paper, the decision about whether to upgrade the system looked simple, especially when the oil price spiked in 2007/2008. Payback would have come in easily less than the useful life of the new equipment and was likely to be easily less than ten years.

In the end we decided to divide the decision into two seperate cases dealing with the two boilers independently. The first was the hot water system boiler which also heated two rooms with four outside walls. The second was the main heating boiler which needed to be tackled in conjunction with improving the kitchen area and adding central heating to that wing of the house.

For the heating system a heat loss calculation of over 100kW meant adding central heating to the unheated part of the house would add such demand to the heating boiler that we would need to replace the one boiler with two. This work is due in 2010.

Hot water system

New condensing boiler and hot water cylinder with three inputs and destratification circuit
New condensing boiler and hot water cylinder with three inputs and destratification circuit

Most of our effort so far has been concentrated on the ‘hot water’ system. Unchanged for decades, this was the perfect opportunity to install a system for the future. We looked at this long and hard and were keen on a number of options including gound source, air source, solar, and biomass. A woodchip boiler was ruled out because we don’t have enough woodland of our own with existing woodland maintenance costs to sink. Ground source, air source and solar all suffered from the same problem – not enough ummpph!

With cast iron plumbing throughout and no plans to replumb it was never an option to simply heat the water in a well insulated cylinder to be called off when needed. The plumbing runs are too long and the quantity of water in thick iron cold pipes would mean a long wait and a lot of wasted water each time the hot water was called on. The hot water needs to be circulated around the system and with the large surface area of the long 1″ plus pipe runs a significant amount of heat is lost. To put this in perspective 6Kw of immersion heater couldn’t get the tank to temperature with the hot water being circulated.

the satisfying sign of efficiency - the plume from the condensing boiler
the satisfying sign of efficiency - the plume from the condensing boiler

Our solution was to upgrade the system with the future in mind but to be initially heated with a condensing oil boiler and as with zoning, to give ourselves a scaleable system. The solution centred on the hot water cylinder.

Hot water cylinder.

This was designed with two key features: extra inputs and a destratification circuit.

Two extra input coils were added to the standard input giving three potential heat sources. The standard (top) coil would be heated by the condensing oil boiler. The middle coil would be spare for a future heat source (biomass, heat exchanger, or something not yet invented). The bottom coil would be for solar hot water. The cyclinder could therefore be fired by simply oil or a combination of the two main heat sources with solar topping up.

The destratification circuit was added so that in normal operation (with destratification off) the water would stratify, leaving the top of the cylinder hot and the bottom full of cold water. The advantage here is that in the morning when the cylinder calls for heat only half the tank is heated. In most circumstances the water in the top of the cylinder and the hot water pipe runs is enough to easily fill a bath. If the full tank capacity is required then a circulating pump can be manually activated which mixes (destratifies) the water in the cylinder forcing the full volume of water to be heated by the top coil.

Two immersion coils were added allowing the cylinder to run in half capacity (stratified) or full capacity.

Conclusions

The condensing oil boiler provided a significant efficiency saving and in itself would be the primary contributor to payback times. While the cylinder’s improved insulation and scaleabilty/flexibility would also contribute to the efficiency. The system has also been given a semi-intelligent timer and a hot water thermostat which allows control where there was none.

Asbestos lagging on the original heating system
Asbestos lagging on the original heating system

We have not arrived in the future – yet. We would have like to jump into a carbon neutral solution. However looking at the options and faced with what felt like cynical pricing when we approached companies about solutions such as ground source heat pumps (they refused to identify the costs of equipment and would only give an all in installed price) we have opted for maximum efficiency (given the design of the historic property and existing pipework) and the options to add carbon neutral heat sources without a system redesign.

We recieved an excellent service and methodical design skills from our plumber. He worked with us at all stages and I am loathed to mention his name for fear he will become too busy to ever help us with phase II but he does deserve recognition for his work and expertise! You can find Will O’Brien on yell.com under O’Brien Whittle Plumbing and Heating.

Asbestos

Before any work could be done the asbestos lagging needed to be removed. This was taken as a seperate decision on the basis that it had to be removed so that in the event of an emergency we would be able to find plumbers who would be prepared to work on a repair. So the asbestos was removed in Aug 2006.

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