Friday 16 December 2016

Fairy Lights and Chimney Smoke

Most of my readers are old enough, I think, to have their own horror stories about Christmas Lights. Getting the lights out and onto the tree was always a major adventure - if they didn't work you had to comb through all those 'dead', screw-in sockets with your known good bulb till you found the failed bulb. There was a 'fuse bulb' too, as I recall which you might have to replace to get any bulbs to light, so you had to keep the box the lights came in, so that you would always have spare bulbs and spare fuses. The happy days of "incandescent" bulbs.

Then some clever soul invented the LED, the 'light emitting diode', a semi-conductor component which could do the same amount of light by "electroluminescence" (now there's a good word) with none of the hot filament problems, brittle glass 'envelope'  or high energy consumption or mad expense. They also had much faster 'switching' ability so they could be used in 'blinking', 'flickering' and 'twinkling' applications. It was inevitable that one of the uses in the "task lighting" group spotted by the makers trying to go commercial would be Christmas 'fairy lights' - they could surely flog gazillions and bring the price right down.

We have never been ones for lighting up the outsides of our houses; all those trees, reindeer, penguins and Santas you see rigged up in front gardens and on roofs. We used to drive round spotting the good ones but our house was always one of the 'boring' ones with no lights. Well, we have finally cracked, just in a small way and gone over to the 'dark side' (or should that be the twinkly lit side?). Liz spotted an advert for our favourite household 'stuff' shop up in Sligo, "HomeStore+More". They were doing 48 metre 'strings' of clear white light LEDs at only €25 each with a handy 10 metre blank 'lead' to get you out from plug socket to garden.

The tree is bought and fitted to its stand
but not indoors yet. Trees are very cheap
compared to the UK. This 2.5 m one was
 €30 in the local SuperValu
By happy coincidence, our front-lawn fence is 10 m  from the plug socket in the sitting room as the electron flies and the fence from there to the front gate is almost exactly 48 m ! A 2nd strand (she bought 2, unable to resist this temptation) was planned for the other side of the drive but could not be worked, so I strung it from one of the Tígín sockets, in a big loop along both gutters and up over both 'barge ends', up to the apex either end and a quick loop round the little stub chimney.

Yesterday's full moon sets into cloud
made pink by a real 'red sky in the morning'
sunrise behind me. 
The little control box on these (part of the plug) has quite sophisticated electronics in it allowing you to toggle between 8 light 'patterns' (always on, all on/off, 50/50 batches alternating etc). We like a soft twinkly pattern so there we are. Not too showy, tastefully lacking in penguins and Santas, no reindeer 'grazing' on the front lawn. (One final point; a 'note to self'. Do not attempt to string 48m of fairy lights along your fence while there are cats and kittens around keen to 'assist' That is all.)

Soldier the Cat assesses the 20' extending ladder for safety
prior to allowing the chimney sweep to climb it. He is up it
no bother and down again forwards a few minutes later. One
cool feline.  
Meanwhile I lit a nice fire in the sitting room a few days back hoping to surprise Liz with a lovely warm room on her return from work, where she could sit in her 'new' settee and relax with a gin. In the past, we have had issues with this fireplace and chimney which get very cold when not in use and provide a freezing down-draught for the range at the other end of the house. We have had to wedge old pillows up it to block it. This time I managed to quickly and very effectively fill the downstairs with smoke.

They sweep chimneys from the top down
in this country. 
Patently all was not well. I had swept it in January and we had had jackdaw pots fitted in Summer so we couldn't work out what the problem might be. Step forward our local roofer/chimney bloke, the guy who had done the jackdaw pots. He was worried that we might have had a masonry collapse - these old chimneys made from stone and cement (originally often lime mortar) can suffer from degradation of the 'cement' by all the hot/cold cycles over 150 years. The mortar turns to dust and trickles out like the sand through an hour glass.

365 project still going strong.
No such drama in the end; our man peered down the flue and spotted a great big jackdaw nest blocking the flue. The birds must have built it between me sweeping the flue and the fitting of our pots and it was far enough down that he didn't spot it (no torch that day) back then. Downstairs then, to masking tape a handy sheet of heavyweight plastic across the hearth to stop any dirt indoors, then up again with his sweeping brush rods and then a big solid lath of timber to bash down the jackdaws' "foundations". They can certainly wedge a stick across a chimney, those nest-builders.

If one of the kittens nicks your box, then
sit on top till it collapses on him. Enlist
the help of his sister to speed up the
While we were at it Soldier the Cat impressed us with a demonstration of his ladder climbing skills, quickly up 16 feet or so to my gutters and then back down under full control at walking pace, front first with his body leaning forward almost vertically. One cool cat. The chimneys are all sorted now with the jackdaw 'cage' pots back in and the flue drawing like a cart-horse and Lizzie warm as toast tonight on her settee.

A new bed goes under the stairs now that the marmalade
kittens can kick the dogs out of 'their' beds.
That's about it for this one - one small bit of 'sad'. We lost another Buff Orpington hen today bringing our fox death-toll to 17. This bird survived the attack but never really recovered from what ever injuries or shock she had received. She never wanted to come back out of the shed and she stood and sulked. She would not take food or water brought to her, at least not while I was watching her, so she just faded across the days and has now given up the ghost. We hope that is it for young Mr Fox, himself now dead 15 days.

No comments: