Dennis Country

Dennis Country

Welcome to my blog ...

Please send me an email if you wish to leave a comment. My website includes sections on the environment, green woodworking and some industrial history photos from Gwent, UK.

Busy Bees

WildlifePosted by Dennis Hopkins Thu, March 09, 2017 09:25PM
It was around 15C today (9 March 2017), which brought out quite a few large bumble bees onto my winter flowering heather. I haven't identified the species yet - most were as shown in photos and the video. I've put this post into the "Wildlife" category, but the situation was my garden, and the food plant is not native to UK. I wonder how the bees are managing in our disappearing and fragmented countryside ...

Click for Video

Hawthorn Growth Buds

ConservationPosted by Dennis Hopkins Sat, February 11, 2017 10:08PM
I was impressed to see over 30 new buds springing from the stump of a young hawthorn tree I had severely pruned (planted in wrong place, oops). This was about 2.5 months after cutting. I believe these are termed adventitious buds, which are dormant buds springing into action if the tree is wounded, for example by incompetent gardeners, or more planned activities like coppicing and hedge laying.
Feb 2017 +2.5 months after pruning

I'm hoping to keep the tree small in case the roots damage a nearby wall, and I intend to add photos to update the tree's progress in surviving my pruning.
One of many information sourses on www

April 2017 +5 months after pruning (shoots ~ 20cm long)

July 2017 +8 months after pruning (shoots ~ 30-40cm long)

Blue Fungus (Cobalt Crust)

WildlifePosted by Dennis Hopkins Mon, December 19, 2016 03:04PM
I was impressed with this blue fungus growing on an oak post, initially thought it might be a lichen. A Gwent Wildlife Trust person suggested it could be Cobalt Crust fungus (Terana caerulea), and it does look a lot like that. More photos can be seen here:!album-9

One of many information sources on www

Beware the Bargains

Shopping - FinancePosted by Dennis Hopkins Sat, December 10, 2016 05:40PM
... and not only the "bargains", things with price labels different to that charged at the till.

I've noticed in recent years that down-marked price labels in particular don't always match those charged at the till in some grocery stores (parts of large chains, for example SPAR). These are sometimes known as "convenience" stores, to whose benefit I wonder sometimes. In a recent example, a printed discount label for an item showed a shelf price of £2.00, but I was charged the original price of £2.50 (shown on the receipt). When I queried this, saying a similar thing had happened many times before in that store, I was told that it was up to the customer to check that they were charged the correct amount! The story has often been - "there's a problem with the computer", "it's not updating properly" or something similar. Stated discounts for multiple buys are sometimes not applied.

I expect this could be a widespread practice, but I haven't noticed problems with larger stores, maybe they can afford better "computers". One day I may spend an hour or two filling out the rather large Trading Standards report form. In a recent purchase at a Londis store I was overcharged at the till for a loaf of bread. When I pointed out the discrepancy the assistant smiled sweetly and said that's what it says on the till, didn't offer a refund, thus breaking trading law - training required?

It's obvious to me that in most cases this is not a genuine mistake. For one thing the price at the till is always higher than that marked in my experience. It's organised theft. The shops rely on customers not counting up their bill, and even if they do not wanting to quibble and hold up the queue or create a fuss. Customers could be especially vulnerable at petrol stations for one example.

PS: I just heard a whisper that I'm not "one of the best" customers of a store with poor price labelling and charging co-ordination performance. So to be "one of the best" customers one has to behave in what manner I wonder. Probably to not notice or complain about pricing discrepancies would help. Not wishing to be a sub standard customer I'll avoid this store.

Update 13 Feb 2017:
An example of what can happen reported by the BBC (I haven't noticed a problem with this store chain myself):
Tesco customers overcharged by out-of-date offers
As of 14 Feb the above article has 845 comments, some criticising the BBC for pointing this out (shareholders I guess). It's not just Tesco of course. I first noticed this as a regular occurence in around 2008/9, perhaps it was no co-incidence there was a serious economic downturn at the time.

ParcelForce and Post Office - a weak combination!

Shopping - FinancePosted by Dennis Hopkins Fri, May 13, 2016 10:52PM
- but strong in making me lose money and time, wish I'd seen reviews of ParcelForce beforehand ...

I sent a largish item within size/weight limits by ParcelForce (PF), for collection at a specified Post Office. This is what happened:
1. I specified collection 0900-1400 26/4/16, it was collected 1812
2. I could not enter recipients required post office depot for delivery, only 4 presented on PF website
3. The selected post office refused to accept delivery on 27/4/16, although parcel was within weight and size restrictions
4. There was no warning on PF website of potential refusal to accept by Post Office
5. The tracking information repeatedly referred to Returned to Sender, rather than being held at a depot, seemed very keen to return rather than trying to resolve. Note the 1 minute lapse between returning to depot and returning to sender!

6. I managed to get PF to attempt a second delivery, when this failed parcel was returned to me.
7. ParcelForce sent an email to the recipient that the parcel was ready for collection 5/5/16 10:40, was delivered to me one minute later at 10:41. It couldn't be collected, it was on a van, and no point notifying the recipient, it was being delivered back to the sender 130 miles away!
The "Force" wasn't with me here, lost money and time. Claiming for compensation looks very time consuming, all the details have to be entered again, they know all that from the parcel and invoice number, obviously an attempt to deter claims.

UPS, via the Parcel2Go website, successfully delivered parcel on the second attempt (when recipient wasn't available 1st time). There was no immediate decision to return to sender.

ParcelForce have denied my claim saying that the recipient refused delivery. Not correct, didn't read my claim notes, their Post Office "partner" refused delivery. To be continued-

After sending ParcelForce another message, this time with salient details in capital letters, and repeated, they say "Having reviewed the details of your appeal i have arranged to reopen and pay your claim for a postage refund". Since the details of the claim were the the same as before, they either ignored them the first time, or refused the claim on the same evidence presented when they accepted it - interesting. I wonder if they do this for every claim.

Received refund of postage only (2 months later, consequential costs refused, as expected)

Hawthorn in wildlife friendly garden

ConservationPosted by Dennis Hopkins Fri, May 13, 2016 02:49PM
About 25 years ago I found a hawthorn tree growing from a seed, dropped by a bird I guess. I transplanted it into a border, and now the trunk is about 7 inches (17 cm) diameter, but it's not very tall. With pruning and training (I'm not sure how), it's become a low pollard at about 3 feet, with dense growth to 6 feet. In the photo, the trunk is about one third from the right, branches extend to the upper left along the trellis.

This thorny tree growth is popular with birds, especially with peanut/seed feeders nearby. It gives them some protection from cats and other predators. I just trim the "hedge" section once a year, wearing heavy duty leather gloves of course. Hawthorn is relatively slow growing at this altitude (850 feet), and can be shaped by severe pruning if necessary. It usually produces flowers and berries on the previous years growth. Another bonus, it doesn't spread by producing "suckers" or from bits of stem lying on the ground, unlike blackthorn and some willows etc..

Making a Long Handled Grabber from Telescopic Pole Pruner

ToolsPosted by Dennis Hopkins Thu, March 31, 2016 09:27PM
I needed to grab some litter out of a pond, and for a cheap solution I adapted a low cost telescopic pole pruner to do the job (click photo for a bigger image). It's quite heavy when fully extended, fitting a shoulder harness may help with handling.

There is no permanent modification to this pruner, I just removed and replaced two nuts (1 and 2 in photo), so it can be easily reverted to normal use. For this conversion I used some old metal bits I had saved - a (rusty) metal "T" bracket (A), with holes enlarged and fixed to the existing pruner nut/bolt (1). A section was cut off the T bracket which formed a jaw of the grabber (A2). I used a strip of metal (B) to hold part (A) in place with existing pruner nut/bolt (2), and additional nut/bolt (3).
Note: here the pruner blade is still in place and may cut grabbed objects

I also fixed a piece of strong wire (C) with a hooked end to the pruner using duct tape. So litter etc. can be held in 3 ways: 1:with this wire, 2: the "grabber" jaw, and 3: between the cord and the pruner mechanism. With a little more thought I'm sure the design could be improved, for example to shield the blade - otherwise grabbing electric cables, fish etc. not recommended!

Cheap Extractor Fan Filter

MiscellaneousPosted by Dennis Hopkins Thu, March 03, 2016 09:10PM
After a few years one of my ceiling extractor fans wasn't working well, and I found that the fan and ducting had become clogged with fibres drawn in through the vent. It was hard work to remove and clean the fan and replace the ducting, so I decided to put a simple filter behind the ceiling vent to reduce the need for maintenance. For a filter, I used a couple of cable ties and some mesh similar to that used to package fruit (in this case the mesh packaging of a new duct section). The photo below shows the "press fit" filter in place in the frame of the ceiling duct - some fibres have been caught after a period of use.
Of course it's important to ensure that the "filter" cannot impact the fan blades - here the tension of the cable ties holds the mesh in place at the start of a 1 metre long duct. I made a second filter, shown in comparison with the partially clogged one in the photo below.

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