Monday, 23 January 2012

To heat or not to heat, that is the question

Chilly days with frosty trees
A bit of excitement tonight, I got a phone call from our house manager - can we go up to the boiler house, there are two drunk people in there. I didn't really follow all the conversation but I did understand that our presence was required ASAP, so on go the wellies, on with the coats, the hats, the scarves and the extra socks and we walked up the boiler house, well it is rather chilly outside at -7C. Our heating has been a bit intermittent and rather lukewarm at times, which isn't fun when it is so cold outside. Admittedly we have our wood stove and can supplement the heat, but that was not the original plan to be using it whilst the communal heating is supposed to be doing the job, the intention was to use it for the times before the heating is switched on in the Spring or Autumn on those cool evenings. It is also not fun for those who have not got double glazing like we have and are on the end apartments and one such home has a week old baby in there and their house was only just registering 13C.

Stone cold skies!
Anyway we got to the boiler house and our house manager hammered on the door, no response. One man appeared to be working, but apparently he wasn't the one who should be there and the other man, who should have been working was in a room with bottles of vodka, and we saw the photos to prove it, although by the time we got there the curtain was firmly shut. Another phone call, this time to the company, the second phone call of the evening to the them. Eventually someone turned up, he hammered on the door, no response, he hammered on the window, still no response. Off he goes to get a key, by which time we are getting rather chilly, the wind was blowing making it feel much colder than the -7C stated on thermometers, so we sat in the house manager's car to wait. Another gentleman from a similarly poorly heated apartment block, kept coming to see what was going on, also waiting to get in to check on the temperatures of the water directly from the boiler. After waiting in the car for what seemed like an age, discussing the problems of the company and our village, the other guy returned but still no key, so we all waited yet again in cars for what seemed like another age. Eventually our house manager got fed up and went and hammered on the door again, success! We were in. The guy inside the building could barely walk, never mind work he was that drunk, the smell of alcohol wafting around. The company guy went to the thermostat and we all read the meter, around 43C out and 33C back, I think those were the numbers and certainly in that ball park and not the figures that our house manager showed us on the chart. According to the chart -7C outside means the water should be heated to 75C, vastly different to the 43C. Eventually the night shift guy turned up and the other rather blotto chap was to be taken home, at least the new guy looked alert, but we are still waiting for that heat to go up, and depends on whether they can get more than just frozen wood chips to burn. Our house manager made it all official and she had written down everything on a piece of paper which we all signed, I think the company guy was very uncomfortable at doing this but it was better to see the proper processes been done. It's also great to see a Latvian taking the initiative to fight back on issues that need to be fought. No longer should it be good enough to accept inadequate heating and then pay a lot for it.

Thick snow on our land too, and landscape features slowly
We have had quite a bit more snow this week and it is beginning to look like a proper Latvian winter and so it was typical that Ian was not feeling too good; he wasn't very ill, but definitely under the weather and not up to driving around. I had three interviews to do this week, interviewing landowners about their damage from the pigs, one was in our apartment building and so not too far (he owns land elsewhere) but two of them were out in the sticks and I had to drive to get to them. The main road was bad enough and was like driving through sand but when it came to turn off the main road, there were big drifts across the road and in places I wasn't too sure where the road itself was, scary stuff. I made it though! I was worried about the trip back as it was snowing heavily but fortunately by the time I had finished the interviews the road was being cleared by one of the local farmers. I'm really enjoying these interviews as it is wonderful talking to lots of different people and hearing their stories.

Repurposed tablecloth
It has also been a fettling week again, just as it should be -the time of year to fix and make things. I taught Ian how to sew up his coat and he did quite a good job of it, I made a light shade for a lamp we brought across from America by recycling an old tablecloth that had got stains on it. The lamp had a light shade, but it was one of the few things that broke on the way across, so it has only taken me nearly four years to get around to it. I also fixed some pyjamas for Ian as there was a gaping hole in the neckline, so I cut off the collar and edged it with some extra fabric - waste not, want not! I have also sorted out my fabric stash into colours, I love to see studios with white box type shelving with all the fabrics folded up neatly on them, it inspires me and so just getting my fabrics sorted into basket temporary shelving is better than nothing. Ian also tried to fettle the microwave buttons that are rather temperamental again, and he thought he had done it but the buttons weren't working once reassembled and so the next step is to leave the buttons off and using a matchstick to press the contacts. Again waste not, want not! We will continue using it until it falls apart completely.

My newly organised fabric stash
I have been publishing the comments and trends on the Latvian population and this week the finalised figures were released. The figures show that 190,000 have left the country in the last 11 years, might not sound a lot over so long a period of time until you realise that is 8% of the population. The overall drop in population was 13% but that is because the death rate is greater than the birth rate these days. Some of the outer regions have seen even more of a drop in population of around 30% in some areas, which is pretty devastating really. The economist from Swedbank added his pennyworth to the discussions on the population figures and said that the Latvians shouldn't be moving abroad they should be moving to the cities. Now why does the phrase "Let them eat cake" come to mind I wonder? How moving to the city will make things better I'm not sure, If there are no jobs, there are no jobs and it is sometimes easier to live in the countryside where at least there is the possibility of growing your own food and housing is cheaper than if you live in the city where housing is expensive and bills for water and heating have to be paid. I know we have to pay for water and heating too, but that is because we live in an apartment with those things supplied, if we lived in our other apartment our heating is wood we cut ourselves and if you live in one of the old houses, wood maybe from your own woods and the water from the well - not an easy life but cheaper.

More snowy pictures
I have a heart for the rural areas too, you may have gathered, if you follow this blog and so the Swedbank economists comments do not sit well with me. The rural areas can be revived and indeed we need them reviving if we are to meet the food needs of the future, Latvia's population maybe decreasing but that is not always the case in the rest of the world. But who am I and what difference can I make? What keeps me doing the course I do in Managing Sustainable Rural development? I mentioned a while ago that I feel almost compelled to do what I do and it is because I believe in a God that can turn whole nations around, he can reverse the degradation of our planet, he can reverse droughts both physical and economic, but he is not a fairy godmother to produce this on a whim. He is shaking trade routes and bringing down the mighty, but we cannot be complacent. I am not sure what the outcome will be, but my trust is not in politicians, banks or businesses for my future or the future of this land or the future of the rural areas, my trust is in God alone. It appears I am not the only one who stake their future on a God who really can change things in a major way and willing to live by that, another person who I greatly admire for stepping out to do things differently, sometimes in a very physical way by walking, he has staked his colours to the mast so to speak and spoken out that he is going to trust God to change the trade routes and follow where that will lead. If you want to read more, here is Steve Lowton's blog, hope it inspires you in the same way it inspires me.

Our kittens are getting big, and cause much consternation
as they charge around the apartment after each other, but
then they look so cute all curled up together on the chairs.
One last thing to mention is a paper I saw published on the internet on the problems of mico-nutrient deficiency. This is a problem in Bangladesh, but it is also a problem in developed countries too. The reasons in developed countries is the awful diet that many have, leading to an overabundance of calories but a lack of essential nutrients. Obviously in places like Bangladesh it is a lack of adequate food generally. Industrialised farming also leads to problems as cows fed solely on grain and not the mixture of grasses of course will produce meat of lower quality and our lack of fresh fruit and veg doesn't help either. The stupid thing is that much research is being done on adding the micro-nutrients to foods such as rice which are just high in carbohydrates, when the answer is so much simpler as the above paper mentions. Eating a range of foods that are available locally and can be grown on a small scale to supplement diets is both cheaper and far more sustainable. Even in cities some foods can be grown to increase nutrient intake, from herbs in pots on windowsills to a few containers outside the back door. The other advantage in growing a range of foods is that if adverse weather hits, some will be more likely to survive than others. So expanding the range of foods grown will not only improve the health of people in Bangladesh, it could improve many local communities health and improve sustainability of whole communities.


Mavis said...

Good for your house manager to challenge and not just to put up with things and it's great to see that she felt that you would be willing and able to support her in what she was doing. You are making a difference by just being who you are where you are. Love it!

Joanna said...

It was a privilege to be able to stand with our house manager while she made a stand

ju-north said...

You make our weather seem almost summery! We've had Northern Lights although I personally haven't seen them. the BBC website had some pics taken in the NE

Joanna said...

Well it's snowing again, so it is getting pretty deep out there, not as much as in previous years. Yet!

I looked for the Northern Lights when you mentioned it on your blog but it was overcast here and about to snow again. Heh ho!

One year I prayed that a guy would see an amazing sunset that would make him think. Next day there were many reports of a peculiar phenomena that appeared in the sky, something to do with some strange clouds and I never saw it. Ian did coming home from work.

karen said...

poor you...freezing in that weather and no heat. I shivered just reading about it. Yes, the Northern Lights have cause quite a stir here, unfortunately we can't see them in Lancashire...

Joanna said...

You can sympathise even more as it was even colder yesterday. Mind you they have upped their game today and the radiators are warmer, I think they shifted the pile of wood chippings and must have found some without ice.

Shame you can't see the Northern lights, maybe we can tonight as it was a bit clearer, even the sun came out which is nice but oh so cold -12C tonight with that breeze. Never mind snow shoeing tomorrow maybe as the breeze doesn't look like it is going to be so bad