Book Review: Elmet


Mozley, Fiona

Algonquin Books, 2017

One of the perks of Amazon Prime is a free pre-release e-book every month and, although my selection of Elmet was a rather hasty one while waiting to board a flight and was less on its own merits but more on the basis of the other selections that month looking less interesting, it was a good pick.  I began reading on the flight with the intent to just take in a few chapters and then go to sleep, but I was drawn into the world of the story and couldn’t stop, even going so far as to keep reading while having dinner at my layover.

It is written in a rather interesting style on two fronts. The first is the language of the characters is consistent and precisely handled to a degree that the slight twists and turns of localized vocabulary and inflection come through, creating a stylistic nicety where conversations flow naturally without the need for labels to identify who said what and how which plagues most dialogues. The second is that it’s a reversal of the flashback novel; instead of describing the present with flashbacks to the past, it is set in the past as present with flashback style foreshadows.  The effect of these together with an intriguing storyline yields a combination that grabs hold and engages the reader in an uncommonly effective way.

The story itself is a bit of a puzzle to classify. Is it a coming of age book, a mystery, a thriller, a documentary?  No, but yes.  We began by encountering a person running away from something, then go back (or forward?) to a pastoral scene of a father, a son, and a daughter building an off-the-grid existence for themselves in the woods. Surrounded on all sides by “modern”  England, they hunt and trap, barter and make, and generally exist outside the norm of modern society. The children’s school is their land and activities, their moral guide their father, who, as we learn soon enough, makes enough to get by on by working in the shadows of the “official world”.

A giant of a man with a formidable reputation, he is prone to occasionally disappear for a day or two; sometimes to earn his cash by no-rules prize fighting in an arena lit by car lights in the pre-dawn darkness where massive bets flow between the word of mouth assembled spectators and organizers, sometimes to make things right for friends who have been wronged.  Soon enough, however, he himself is provoked. Officially he and his children are squatting on land owned by a ruthless landlord for whom, we eventually discover, he was once employed as a rent-raising thug.  The landlord makes a thinly veiled threat to tear down their home and evict them from his land, and the tension grows. Both parties desire to be rid of the other, and the situation grows to an unbearable level which forces them onto a path which could either save or destroy them.

Throughout the telling are the italicized comments from the other time, telling a story very different than that in normal print. The story ends as it begins – italics on the page, and a sense of not quite knowing what is going to happen next.

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Random Food of the Day

It’s…. Frozen French Onion Soup from Costco.

This was my first experience with soup in this packaging, and I have to admit that I’m a fan.  Maybe not so much if I had bought it in the middle of the summer and it had melted on the drive home so I would have ended up with random shaped frozen lumps of soup, but assuming it stays frozen until it gets to me I kind of like the lack of needing to put it in another container that I’d simply have to throw away.  Given the way that croutons and cheese are distributed in the frozen cylinder o’ soup I’m imagining that it’s made in a batch of individual molded blocks, but I like to think of a giant soup machine where boiling soup gets run through a cooling sequence and is extruded out like so much frozen pasta.

Fully aside from the format and packaging, it’s also pretty darn tasty soup.

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Random Food of the Day

Still not quite sure what a magic gluton is, but I’d eat it again


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The Perils of Legoman’s holiday at Rurikia

A few years ago, Legoman decided to visit Rurika and had a fairly hard time of it.  He started off in the orchard, but soon found he wasn’t much of a match for the apples.


Next he took a tour of the wine and cider cellars and seemed to be enjoying it


until while viewing the production area he slipped into the drive mechanism of the grape crusher.

After a close call, he decided the woodshop was a better place to hang out. It started out well enough by helping out on a project, but then he decided that selfies with powertools was a good idea.

Fortunately for Legoman, he managed to complete his visit with only minor injuries.

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Going Solar – Part 10: How Having Solar Has Changed My Habits

Part of why I opted for solar was that I believe strongly in minimizing my impact where I can. By putting a power supply on my property I not only have some degree of self-sufficiency (in terms of knowing I am generating the power I am generally using – though with the traditional grid-tie system I am still subject to the system being shut off if power goes out in the area), but I also cut down the transmission distances (and associated losses) involved in transporting power from a distant generating facility to my home. This is the case both for my own use, as well as for the homes around me where most of any power I put back in the grid is consumed during the day. Against this background it is probably unsurprising that by having my own supply of household electricity Some of my habits have changed to bias toward electric usage rather than other energy sources. Here is a rundown:

1) Heating and cooling: Not a huge change here, as the costs involved in switching from a propane heating and hot water system to an electric system is a bit higher than I really desired to jump into. In addition, that would greatly increase my electric usage to the point where the installed system (which was limited to 100% of my prior 12 months average monthly usage – and I had been in a highly efficient mode at that period) would be insufficient to provide coverage. The one change I did make was to design and implement an independent fan and water control system for my swamp cooler so I could take advantage of the cool night air by running the fan longer without water in order to cold-soak the house overnight.

2) Cooking: This is where the big changes happened. I have a very large and very nice propane stove. Replacing it with an electric model was not an option on cost and performance reasons, but I found other ways to switch usage and provide improved capabilities at the same time. I bought an electric pressure cooker, a sous-vide immersion heater, and a convective toaster oven. During the summer I can put these outside and not only use my solar power to effectively cook a meal, I can also reduced the internal heat load for the house and need less cooling. In the winter I can use them inside and the associated heat losses with smaller appliances assist with heating the house. All 3 systems work very well within my cooking activities, and a side benefit of the toaster oven is that for many things I can use it with as good results as the large oven but without having to heat up as large of a volume. In addition, I invested in a large chest freezer to enable more effective storage of many foods as well as saving leftovers from when do cook a large quantity of something.

3) Cleaning: A small electric blower is the best device by far for clearing off a tile patio in the desert, and an impulse purchase of a robotic vacuum has made a huge difference in the overall cleanliness of the house by keeping the daily buildup of dust at bay. Neither of these are huge changes in and of themselves, but they make things easier and more effective so I do them where before I couldn’t be bothered most of the time.

4) Entertainment / Office productivity: I am not as opposed as I used to be about adding more electrical equipment in these areas. I’ve run additional powered speakers to other areas of the house, and I went from a single screen to a 3 screen computer display setup which has been a big productivity boost when I am working on more complicated projects. I also added additional lighting in my workshop and dug out an old electric space heater I hadn’t used in years so it is far more comfortable to work in the (unconditioned / uninsulated) shop during the colder parts of the year. When it warms up in a few months I will probably be adding a portable swamp cooler for a similar reason.

Those are the major changes, and they have led to a slight increase in overall electrical usage to the point where my installed 2.7 kW system was no longer at 100% of my usage. When I had a followup conversation with the company that installed my solar array I mentioned this, and they pointed out that in the terms of my PTO letter from the utility was a clause that after the system was installed I could add up to 1 kW additional capacity without requiring a new agreement.

We ran the numbers, and it came out that that was a reasonable and cost effective option, particularly as I had sized the original inverter to accommodate future expansion up to 5 kW. A few weeks later they had completed all the required paperwork and permissions needed to do so, and a few days ago 4 additional panels showed up on my roof. Initial indications are that, given the relatively small size of the original array and by operating closer to the inverter design point I’m seeing about a 40-45% increase in system capacity.

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Through the Camera – California Gopher Snake

This evening I was graced by a visit from a California Gopher Snake which seemed to want a photoshoot as it meandered it’s way around the back porch, climbed up on the grill, and even seemed to get bored and yawning at one point.



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Book Review: The Plot

The Plot
Bunting, Madeleine
Granta, 2009

Subtitled “A Biography of an English Acre” the general story of the book is a description of “the plot” where the author’s father invested his life’s work. It’s an interesting concept – take a somewhat random piece of land and look into it from a geographic, cultural, and historical perspective.

Through the book one learns a bit about the geography and ecological of the North Yorkshire Moors; the importance of Scottish drovers and the routes they took to the communities through which they passed; the few touches of “great” history to which this relatively remote piece of land may have felt the footsteps of the parties involved. Intertwined within it, however, is the much more recent story of an inspired sculptor who, as a schoolboy, felt an attachment to the place. Years later he acquired it, used the stones of the long abandoned structures to create a shelter and a memorial chapel to his heroes, and hosted gatherings of family and friends in his personal retreat when the mood struck him. As the family relationships began to break down and the success he aspired to never came, it became much more of a symbol to his daughter of him.

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