In 2000 I’d bought a tiny two-roomed apartment for £26,000. This was in a rising market, and prices climbed steeply, taking a huge hike up at some point (I forget which year) About two or three years before the economy crashed, our Rosie was working for the Inland Revenue. There came a point, about two to three years before the economy crashed, when Rosie said anyone wanting to buy a house would do well to hold off, because it was all going to crash. She said it was bound to crash, because people were borrowing way too many times their income to sustain their mortgage repayments, and a whole lot of repossessions would be coming down the line in the next few years. Then the economy crashed, leaving all our politicians wide-eyed and open-mouthed with innocent amazement. Apparently nobody knew it was going to happen but our Rosie.
In 2006 I married the Badger and had gone to live in Aylesbury with him. Hebe and Alice were living in the tiny apartment and very happy there, but I didn’t like the leasehold arrangement which put us at the mercy of property managers, never an ideal arrangement. I wondered what to do.
While we were living in Aylesbury, the Still Small Voice (which deals with practical matters not just the holy stuff) whispered in my heart; sell the apartment. Now! Go go go! So I did. The inhabitants felt a little rushed, but gamely participated in presenting it beautifully. With its huge windows flooding the rooms with light, remodelled kitchen all custom made in reclaimed wood with Victorian sink and taps, adorable pot garden and ceramics and stained-glass studio, it was a peach of a place, and sold very quickly at the asking price of £100,000. This was good news for us, but needless to say such a climb in property prices over a period of five years was not matched by a climb in local wages. The tiny apartment could certainly be considered a "starter home", The much discussed housing crisis of present days probably has a lot to do with the inaccessibility of starter homes created during those five years, and will not be solved by the government's plan of building housing estates all over the green belt. Anyway, we sold the tiny apartment in August. The market crashed a month later. Phew!
Then the Still Small Voice said that for me, ministry and family were bound up together and I should go back to Hastings. So we did. We took a small loss on our Aylesbury home but, trading like for like, came out okay; and because Hastings housing is way cheaper than Aylesbury’s we had some money in the bank for necessary repairs on what we bought. Over the next few months the family shifted around into our present households – the Wretched Wretch and his Ancestors becoming the owners (they bought it, but at just over half the – now falling – market price) of the small house that had replaced the tiny apartment. Hebe and Alice and Fi and me and the Badger moved in to our present house, which was Very Dilapidated – think collapsing kitchen ceiling and a number of buckets catching the drips from the roof.
My dear papa considerately went home to Glory, allowing us to complete the necessary refurbishments, one of which was the installation (the Badger’s suggestion) of solar panels on the roof – tubes to heat our water, photovoltaic cells for general electricity.
At the time, the English government had a serious commitment to Green thinking. They had made an offer for electricity supplied by householders to the National Grid. Those who signed up in the first year of the offer would receive 41p per unit, the amount offered decreasing annually, but the amount received subject to incremental annual increases for each person who’d signed up. Under the mercy, our timing was such that we were in on the first year.
Then England decided that everything wrong with the economy must be the Prime Minister’s fault, and in the next general election voted in the Opposition. The Prime Minister and Treasurer of the new government belonged to this club in their younger days, and that gives you a good sense of their values and priorities, and those of the families in which they were brought up.
After a year or so in government their true colours are showing as the care of young children and disabled people is eroded, school playing fields are sold off, the wise, pragmatic Minister for Justice is replaced by a hard-liner, and moves to sell off our precious national green-belt land to make a quick buck are put in place. One of the first things they did was scrap the energy deal on householders supplying solar power – but they had to reinstate it as howls of protest rose over the inevitable decimation of all the new solar energy business infrastructure that had grown up because of the deals. So the deal was on again, but at a much reduced offer; though all the people who had signed up in that first year (and the second year too, maybe?) had their deal protected and their contract honoured.
What does this mean for us as a household?
It means that in April we turn off our boiler (US = furnace) and don’t use it again until October, and even then our water heating is substantially done by sunshine, the boiler only brings it up from warm to hot in the cold, short, overcast days of winter.
It means that we run our electrical appliances on sunshine. Our bills are tiny (£44 a month for gas and electricity combined for a big old Victorian house with high ceilings and five people all living, cooking, washing, reading, running computers . . .). As everyone else's bills have been going up, ours have been coming down, especially as we have a woodstove for space heating, and fill hot water bottles or pile on the woollies before heating the space.
We have a “generation meter” measuring how much electricity we generate from our solar panels. However much or little we actually uses, 50% is deemed to have been used by us and 50% exported. We are as conservative as we can be in our use, because we want to supply as much clean energy as we can to the National Grid, because we love Mother Earth. Once a quarter I send in a meter reading, and receive a cheque (yes, we spell it that way in England!) for however many units I we are deemed to have exported.
So it was that £500 landed in my current account yesterday, for the summer quarter. At the time I had £61 in my current account and needed some new Really Good Bras (scroll down to Poem 2).
And instead of being really careful with money because it was already Wednesday and we don't get the housekeeping money out until Friday, I went to Marks and Spencer (and see their food ethics here), and bought not only the bras but some delicious seasonal juices they had on offer, some of their heavenly dried fruit and some half-fat crème fraiche to go with it, some glorious half-baked ciabatta rolls, a tiny piece of Cornish Cruncher cheddar, and some Little Gem lettuce hearts.
Some people love the sun and some people complain about it, but yesterday the sunshine bought us lunch and two Really Good Bras, and I say that rocks!
P.S. Further good news - we just had our water bill in. This summer I have bought 700 litres worth of rainwater storage, we have been really careful and mindful in our use of water, washing up in as little water as it is still clean to do, taking short showers not baths, and saving up all the water that comes from running the hot tap to get hot water, to use for other things. As a result of the careful stewardship, our water account is £118 in credit, and our monthly bill will be going down from £45 to £27. What blesses the Earth blesses the people. Every time. It really is worth making Green choices.
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)
A large, useful box. Of course, the fewer things one has, the fewer large, useful boxes one needs. But, in its largeness, it was useful for giving some of the things away in.