Thursday, December 31, 2009


In January I will re-commence regular attendance at the gym which I joined in September; my attendance fell off after the temperature dropped below -20 C. My response to the cold during my first two winters here was to reach for the familiar British comforts of stodgy puddings and cocoa and crumpets by the fireside, and as a result I became clinically overweight for the first time in my life. Thanks to the gym's classes for the over-fifties, the pudgy phase of my life is now over.

In February I will cash in my Scottish Widows Savings Bond, which I bought ten years ago on the advice of an Independent Financial Advisor. Taking inflation into account it is worth less than when I bought it.

The advice I followed when I was young was that people on small and moderate incomes should not buy market based investments. We should buy a house with a mortgage we could afford and put our savings in Building Society. Prudence turned her face to the wall in the eighties, since when I've bought endowment policies, unit trusts, investment bonds and private pensions. They were all described to me as safe investments and several were bought on the advice of an IFA. There was a small unit trust that did miraculously well in the three years I had it, but the rest have all been duds. I suspect that even the pension policies (one was with Equitable Life) have lost me more by poor returns than I gained from the tax rebate.

In March I'm going home. If Gordon Brown calls the election early, then I'll arrive a couple of days before polling, but otherwise I've volunteered for Norman Baker's campaign. After a confined winter in Alberta, a spring spent walking the lanes, streets and twittens of Sussex will be my idea of heaven. The Lewes Liberal Democrats will not have a more enthusiastic canvasser and leafleteer.

In May, Ian is joining me and we are taking trains from London to Prague via Cologne, a journey I've planned, as usual, with the aid of The Man in Seat 61. We're touring the Czech Republic, then going on to Vienna, where we have friends and where Ian will stay to do research, while I come back to Edmonton to plant out our vegetable garden.

In June, Ian and I will keep in touch using Skype. For that purpose Ian is taking our Dell Mini 10v to Austria. The Mini 10v is my favourite toy this winter. I've never had a computer that was cute before; I started buying it presents, a speaker and a sleeve, then realised I was treating it like a doll. So I'm not sure which I'm going to miss most, Ian or the Dell.

In July, I will do a fresh install of Ubuntu Linux on my desktop PC with the latest version, which will be 10.04 - the Lucid Lynx.

For the rest of the summer and the autumn, I'll be continuing our programme of improving the insulation and energy efficiency of our house, plus some maintenance and decorating. Since we are not intending to remain in the house for more than a few years, none of the work we've done on the place since we bought it in '06 makes much sense financially. We've been motivated partly by concern about global warming, but also it would just feel odd and vaguely improper to own and live in a house without taking care of it.

By the end of 2010, I expect I'll still be trying to finish the Fair Isle cardigan I started in the autumn of 2008. The project appealed to me because the pattern uses undyed Shetland wool in natural shades from white to black. The amount of pollution caused by industrial dyes is appalling, and Shetland sheep were at risk for a while because farmers were replacing them with Merinos whose wool is more suitable for dyeing. I pictured myself sitting by the fire on cold days, skilfully turning out a series of environmentally friendly jerseys, which Ian and I would wear for the admiration of our friends. In fact, it took me 6 months of knitting and unpicking to just get the tension right. I'd nearly finished the body, when I realised that I started the arm-holes too early, so now I'm going to have to unpick half of what I've done.

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