Robinswood Hill + a happy tomato…

A steep dog walk up Robinswood Hill and a great view from the top!

Robinswood Hill walk 13.09.14

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Little red car…

Last weekend we drove over to Coldicot (SE Wales) tp pickup our new (well, 18 months old) little red Citroen C1. Citroen C1 brochure.

We had the boys in the back of the car club car which we had booked for the evening and once we’d picked up the car, Claire drove that back and I drove the other one. Very foggy drive over the Severn Bridge but we all got back fine.

The C1 drives really well and is really easy to park – as the previous owner said to Claire ‘it parks like a dream!’.

The fuel efficiency was the clincher, over Chevy Spark which we had previously test driven. The C1 has a 63 mpg average, while the Spark only has 55 mpg. The Spark is the safest car in its class but we checked the stats for the C1 and found it is only 1 point lower overall, and actually safer in some aspects. The Spark does has 3 proper rear seats, complete with seat belts and this was swaying us, but overall it would have been more money and the miles per gallon issue just wouldn’t go away. The C1 is basically the most sustainable car we can afford and looks great.

The simple mpg cost calculation which we did to work out what the actual cost savings would be was…

Both have 35L tanks. Each would cost £1.31 per litre in petrol. The C1 giving a total of 7.7 gallons X 63 (mpg) = 485 miles out of 1 tank. The Spark would give 7.7 gallons X 55 (mpg) = 423 miles. The difference per tank of petrol = 62 miles.

If we assume we might fill the car up once a month, over the course of a year, this would mean we can get an extra 744 miles from the C1. The cost of this is would be £70.33 (@ £1.31 per litre). Over 5 years this would be £351.

So, overall it’s a good small city car and just right for us right now. For camping trips we’re going to get some roof bars and a roof box to fit the light but bulky items in. Bring on the Spring and Summer!


Chevy Spark test drive…

We’re taking the next step on our journey towards car ownership by test driving a Chevy Spark! This is a big step for us and we’ve been car-less for 11 months, since our old Nissan Sunny packed up. During that time we’ve been members of the local car club in Gloucester, operated by Commonwheels. This has been good but has meant less flexibility for journeys out of Gloucester and a limit on the number of times we can book it, due to costs. Overall it has been very useful being in the car club and the system works well but does mean that for £100 a month in costs, we could only take the car out maybe 4 times for a few hours at a time, or a few 24 hour bookings.

So, to get us to those hard to reach places for amazing spring and summer adventures, we’ve decided to go for car ownership again. One of our top priorities is fuel efficiency, which means less pollution and less costs to operate the car. Other factors include 3 rear seat belts and headrests, roof bars for a roof box (for the camping gear), safety features, and low running costs, which means a small car with low insurance and tax band. It also means a newish car which means very low servicing costs and reliability.

The result of our research is the Chevy Spark. 55 mpg, lots of safety features and low running costs. A great looking car and so far the test drive has been very good. Driving away from the garage this morning through snowy and very cold conditions (temperature down to -14 degrees C), the car felt safe and stable and the climate control kicked in quickly. Very responsive and good to drive.

To keep costs down, we’re looking mainly at the 2011 or 2010 model, but we’ll see what we can get within our set budget of £100 per month for the financing of the car and £100 for all other costs. Ideally we’d want to get this figure down as much as possible but we’ll be weighing up all the options over the next couple of months. Really looking forward to the freedom this will give our family but we’ll be keeping in mind all our good habits and not just driving everywhere!


Allotment (significant) progress…!

So, 2 weeks ago, our plot looked like it had been abandoned the year before. Now it’s starting to look like it could be the source of a good proportion of our vegetables every year.

I’ve been over there three times in the past week and a bit and it feels amazing. The combination of physical work and the connection to the earth is brilliant (I think I already said this in the previous post but it’s such a strong feeling)!

Roughly 10 hours of work there has started to psychologically shift the process and we’re now very positive about it and really feel a lot of optimism. My Dad came up on Friday (which I booked off work) and we focussed on the plot for a good 5 hours. This involved the following…

– A car load of 10 plastic tubs full of amazing compost (which we had been creating in our two compost bins in the garden) were first emptied into the tubs then loaded into the car. We also loaded two, triple stacked, raised bed frames into the car and the wheelbarrow.

– All this was unloaded at the allotment and half the compost dumped onto the plot.

– Back to mine for a quick lunch.

– Loaded the rest of the compost from the garden into 3 more tubs, and into the car, including bags and spare tubs for next manure collecting journey.

– Unloaded compost at allotment then drove over to the equestrian centre to pickup as much manure as we could load into the car! Also picked a bag of apples from a tree on the entrance lane. 10 tubs full of manure, 4 Ikea bags, a huge white builders bag and a large green bag! Enough for half the plot.

– Back to the allotment to dump all this and to dig this in as much as possible. We met Claire and the boys and we all had a great time roaming around and digging, watering things, playing in the car etc. A really nice, clear and sunny day. More of the plot was also dug by Claire.

– We pulled back the black plastic sheet from the main other half of the plot and folded it up. This needs to be done to allow rain to get into the soil and to loosen it all up, as it was very hard. Cleared the branches and random wood into tubs.

So, lots of progress and the aim now is to get the rest of the plot cleared and dug over within 3 weeks, before Dad comes up again for a final double manure run, which will provide enough to improve the whole area.


Car death…!

The car is now officially off the road.

We got back from my Mum’s place in Bristol, having just been to Westonbirt and pulled up alongside the space at the front of our house. Claire tried to put it reverse gear but it just wouldn’t go in! On the journey back, she had been saying that 1st and 3rd gears were also getting harder to shift. So, we went around the block and went in to the space front first, then I pushed the car back into the space!

I tried to get it into reverse and managed it, but not before some serious grinding and difficulty. The clutch has officially died. Maybe also the gear box.

On leaving Mum’s, she had said good-bye to the car (having been the previous owner) and we had been talking about giving it up within the next few days on the journey home. So between reversing at Mum’s place and arriving at home, the reverse gear failed. I think there’s some kind or Herbie thing going on!

It’ll be 1 less car on the road, lots of positives for the environment and £170+ per month savings. The 1994 Nissan Sunny had done 81,000 miles and is 17 years old. I’ve been driving that car since I was 17 (on and off) and we’ve owned the car outright for the last 2.5 years.


Time to ditch the car…?

We’re getting very excited about the new Gloucester car club, which has just recently been opened, after years of contributions from developments in the city. Section 106 planning funds have been brought together to fund the provision of 5 car club cars, all positioned around the city centre, and all within roughly 20 minutes walk from our house!

So, the scheme is being run by commonwheels car club, and the cars are all Nissan Notes, all brand new and which seem a good size. We went on a mini hunt while coming back from the shops yesterday and Claire jumped out and had a look inside one of them!

Nissans product brochure: Nissan Note

The scheme involves a £25 one-off joining fee and £4.25 per hour to hire the car, with a 0.19p per mile fuel charge. There is also a £5 minimum monthly spend + a £15 one-off additional member fee for the smart card.

When this is compared to the £2,000 a year cost of running our car at the moment, it could really save a lot of money and hassle. If you consider the tax, petrol, MOT and servicing, and the time it takes to organise things, the ease of just booking the car club car then just leaving it would be amazing. It cost us roughly £170 per month at the moment to run the car and this is one of our biggest costs. This month we have paid £85 in petrol!

In terms of sustainability, we would be using the car less (as it wouldn’t be parked right outside the house) and also sharing the cars with everyone else in the centre. There would be less CO2 being emitted as most of the processing associated with the running of the car would be shared.

Another part of the process is to use the money we would save to buy bikes for Claire and I + a pull along shopping carrier buggy, which we could load up for trips to the supermarket etc. They can also be used to carry a child, but we’re not sure about this yet!


Libya, energy and Peak Oil…

I don’t normally need an excuse to start going on about energy production and climate change but…

Have you seen the cost of petrol? In our general area (SW England), the price now roughly stands at £1.30 per litre, which has gone up from the £1 per litre level roughly 4 years ago. In 4 years, the price has gone up by 23%. This is very important not just for running your family car but for everything which a large part of our human civilisation needs to survive, including energy and food production.

This is a bit of a jumbled post, but i’m trying to bring together a few related, but also different subjects. I’m trying to comment on the things going on in Libya right now (without launching into a full-on analysis of Middle-Eastern politics – i’ll save that for another post!), energy supply and demand, and a pinch of Peak Oil!

A “bumpy plateau” with a downward trend in extraction.

This is how The UK Energy Research Council described the pattern of oil production in the coming years. This ‘bumpy plateaux’ is describing the upcoming period of activity where we enter the period of oil production known as Peak Oil, where the level of extraction starts to level off. The human population is growing fast (this year the world population will hit 7 Billion) and our dependence on mechanised transport, food production etc is also growing fast. This creates a large and increasing demand for oil to power and sustain the human population. The supply of easily extractable oil is levelling off, and will start to fall in the short-term. This means demand will outstrip supply.

Peak oil is not a “theory.” Because oil is a finite resource, it is an inevitability. The debate is all about its timing.

From the report: ‘Reserve estimates are uncertain, reporting is restricted, auditing is insufficient, harmonisation is limited, distortions are likely.’

The ‘bumpy plateaux’ also refers to the process of needing to find harder to reach supplies of oil than we previously needed to, just to stay at the same level of supply. These new supplies will be harder to find and extract and it will cost more. This will lead to price fluctuations and supply problems, which will have a massive impact on our society. It has emerged recently that the Saudi oil reserves have been over-estimated by maybe 40%! This is the world’s top oil producer saying it has nearly half the reserves of oil that it claimed to. This is part of the bumpy ride which will contribute to the ever-increasing price of oil.

Spanish Government intervention…

A frankly amazing example of what will need to start to happen is being provided by Spain (this is where Libya comes in!). A Guardian article recently, talked about the connection between Libya and Spain, via oil production (see pdf below if the link doesn’t work anymore).

PDF document: Spain to lower speed limit as oil prices rise

The Spanish Government is proposing to reduce the maximum motorway speed limit, a 5% reduction of train fares and an increase in the amount of biofuel added to the petrol that the oil companies produce.

It’s a really interesting article, particularly in terms of the reaction to the crisis in Libya and in terms of the scale of change that can be brought about in response to a perceived threat. The key financial thing here is the 15% less cost of running a vehicle at less than 10 mph reduced speed. This is a large shift.

After reading this article, I did a little test while driving to West Brom yesterday: I checked what the rev counts were at 65 mph and 75 mph. Well, there were 2700 revs at 65 mph and 3300 revs at 75 mph. This is a 500 revs difference, or 15% less revs at 65 mph.

At £1.30 per litre for petrol, it now costs us £50 to fill up the car! Maybe one side effect of the unrest in a number of key oil producing countries will be to wake people up a bit to how totally dependent we are on this vital and diminishing resource.


To car or not to car…

Some decisions or thoughts on owning and running a car v scrapping it!