Monthly Archives: March 2015

Votes for Policies – if you dare!


I thought I better check where I stand theses days, and it looks like I am still a rock solid Green:

And it also looks encouraging for the Greens in Bridgend, if they get their act together to put a candidate up!

If you keep visiting the site, it will update the figures as we approach the election. Despite all this, I still predict a probable lost deposit and 5th or 6th place, if the Greens stand. Finishing ahead of UKIP would represent some sort of worthwhile outcome.
As well as the usual Lab/Con/Dems, we also have Plaid Cymru, TUSC and our friends in the Pirate Party vying for some of our target audience (and UKIP).
With FPTP, it is a lot easier to hang on to votes you shouldn’t have, than to gain votes you should have.

Voting for what you really want is a tactic that too few run with – and the strategy of the left factions standing against each other makes it so.

If there was a SYRIZA-like coalition of the left, between Greens/PC/TUSC/Pirates, Labour MP Madeleine Moon would be out on her ear and have to start paying for her own jolly trips all over the world, instead of having another 5 years serving Porthcawl (I doubt she even knows where Wildmill is) handed to her on a plate.

Hey ho!

P.S. Just to bang on about the same point a little more – here are the current scores for Ogmore constituency. The potential for a joint Green/PC assault on this safe Labour seat is clear enough. Instead, we have two people I have the utmost respect for going head-to-head and getting nowhere (I suspect).

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 14.25.35

Andy’s PV solar panels’ performance – 32% saving

We had this installed in late November 2013 by A Shade Greener at absolutely no cost to us whatsoever, and have found the company as good as their word at every stage. They get the ‘Feed In Tariff’ for all the electricity generated. We get to use as much of the electricity generated that we can for free, with the rest feeding into the grid. The onus is on us to organise our household and activities to gain the optimum benefit, but the bottom line is that we gain some benefit every time the panels produce anything (there are always appliances such as fridges/freezers, and things on standby, using some electricity). We will always have an electricity bill for what we use over and above what the panels produce at a given time – and through the night of course!

A few things need to be taken account of before looking at the figures.

  • This is a maximum size installation of 4kWp, using slightly bigger than usual panels.
  • Our house faces a bearing of 210 degrees, which is 30 degrees off the due South which gives optimum performance.
  • The company will consider installations up to 45 degrees either side of due south i.e. anywhere between bearings of 135 (SE) and 225 (SW) degrees.


The data comes from our eco-eye monitor, which cost us £60. This is the only outlay we have made, as A Shade Greener don’t supply one (it makes no odds to them whether we use the electricity produced or not), but I would say it is very worthwhile as it flags up when there is surplus electricity available for us to use – time to put the washing machine or dishwasher on – and also provides the data below (and masses more):

(I had hoped to show the whole of 2014, but the memory card became full in early September, so ignore the incomplete months of Nov “13 and Sep “14)

The graph indicates the electricity we used in red and the electricity generated by the panels in green.
I am puzzled why we used so little in February last year, but otherwise the pattern is much as may be expected. We find:

  • Peak consumption in Dec/Jan/March; lowest consumption in (bar odd data for Feb) in Jun/Jul/Aug
  • Peak production was in Jul/Jun/May; with lowest production in Dec/Jan/Feb
  • Production actually exceeded consumption in Ju/Jul/Aug

However, there is always a mismatch between times of production and times of consumption, so how does this pan out?

Of the 3039kWh generated by the panels, we exported 1770kWh, so we used 1269kwh of it (42%). Had we managed to use all 3039kWh, this would not have covered all of our consumption – but would have covered 76% of it.

Over the period, the house used 3988kWh, importing 2710kWh of it (68%), so we have a headline figure of 32% saving – just below the 37% average saving cited by A Shade Greener:

In monetary terms, it depends what unit rate you are paying. We currently pay 14.04p per unit to Ecotricity.
The 1269kWh we got from the panels was therefore worth about £178, but this excluded Sep/Oct/Nov. If we assume these would have been average months, the annual saving would be around the £235 mark.

There is plenty more we could do to optimise our use of the panels’ production, but we are getting worthwhile savings and also passing our surplus into the grid, reducing the need for non-renewable production.

It really is a no-brainer!

P.S. If you call A Shade Greener in, don’t forget to mention my name!

There’s a black dog on my shoulder again

‘Black dog’ as a metaphor for depression: a brief history

Apologies for my rather sudden disappearance from social media (feel free to share this page if you see fit) and withdrawal from my usual activities. I suffered something like a perfect storm of work, political and personal setbacks that, over a considerable period brought me crashing down a few weeks ago.

I am just about beginning to function again, but it may take a while before normal service is resumed – if it ever is.

I am, however, beginning to become hopeful of taming the black dog and managing its behaviour to avoid another meltdown on this scale again (this is my third major episode), and this is the reason I am writing this post – to share the source of this hope.

Depression is the scourge of modern living and the facts and figures speak for themselves: Mental Health Statistics

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.12.52

So, a quarter of you probably have some sort of idea what it is like to be a sufferer, which means three quarters of you haven’t a clue, because you really cannot know what it is like if you haven’t been there.

Because it effects people everywhere and of any background, it does mean great intellectuals and artists suffer at least their fair share (there is some evidence that rationalists may suffer more). Some have attempted to share and explain the experience.

The Manic Street Preachers ‘Black Dog’ song above comes from their ‘This is my truth, tell me yours‘ album that contains some other insights such as:

Another perhaps unlikely source of insight into depression is Ruby Wax. She has suffered a lot more severely than I have and describes it well here: 

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.15.27

“I remember why depression is so awful now that I’m back in that land; there is no specific sharp, jabbing or throbbing pain, there is no feeling. This is the sensation people are after when they take certain drugs to forget but even then they know it’ll wear off. This isn’t recreational it’s terrifying. There is no one in your body to even register pain. There is nothing, empty space, whoever you were who lived in your skin has left the building, vanished. I can recall back in a fog that I had a fast mind, a quick wit, insight into others; it feels like I’m talking about a distant relative. People remind you that you’ve accomplished things I’m sure it’s true but then I was someone else not this thing. That what it feels like in reality I know it’s not true but this again is a symptom of the disease.”

However, she goes on to explain that, although she has not got a cure, she has found a way of managing and taming it – a way that has connected with me too:

“This time I’m not fearful about having the actual depression. Having studied it, I know this is what it is. I’m not fearful that I’m making this up and I can ‘snap’ out of it. That said, fear is a symptom of the disease; I feel I’m in full emergency mode because my chemicals are in full emergency mode, not dependent on any outside stimuli but because they have started to flood my brain and cause havoc.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.17.45This starts to give a clue as to how to handle the ‘black dog’ of depression. There is something physiological going on in terms of chemicals at work in the brain. This is why medication can and does help. What medication cannot do, however, is help you manage the thought processes that can trigger, accentuate and perpetuate the downward spiral into a depressive state. This is where counselling and talking (cognitive behaviour) therapies have been developed, along with all manner of ‘alternative’ therapies. But there are a couple of major problems with most of these. Firstly, you only get a referral to such services once the depression has taken hold and is relatively severe. Secondly, they are often built around stuff that is easy to dismiss as wooly and/or mumbo jumbo. If you buy into it, like a good placebo, it is likely to have a positive impact, but for rationalists like myself and Ruby Wax, if we don’t understand it, we won’t buy into it and it will never work. This is perhaps why rationalists end up suffering more.

What we need is something that we can see having a scientific basis and underpinning, alongside something we can build into our daily lives to help avert and manage our depressions. Ruby Wax has done the due diligence and found something that is (all too) slowly becoming a recognised way forward. It is called MINDFULNESS-BASED COGNITIVE THERAPY (MBCT) – I’ll simply call it ‘mindfulness’.

Ruby Wax went to the extreme lengths of studying it for a Masters degree from Oxford University, where the whole concept has been developed (with others) by a guy who has become one of my gurus, Professor Mark Williams. I use the term guru quite deliberately as the the whole programme, as the Prof fully acknowledges, owes a lot to the ancient wisdom of Buddhist traditions in terms of mindful meditations. I have long acknowledged the Buddhist world view and traditions as vastly superior to other (religious) traditions, and I am happy to advocate MBCT as a bit like Buddhism minus the paraphernalia but bolstered by science.

I was first introduced to mindfulness and Prof Williams’ work by my GP quite a while ago. However, he threw me straight into undertaking the meditations and I quickly dismissed it all as more wooly nonsense and refused to buy into it. It wasn’t until I recently heard Ruby Wax advocating it, and joining up a few dots for me, that I finally bought into it properly and started to do my own diligent research.

Here’s Ruby’s TED  talk.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.19.57
Here’s her (a) book  Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.23.09

(b) audiobook and

(c) tour.

Here is Prof Mark Williams’ introducing the concept in a reasonably accessible way: Science Live lecture 2012. His calm, engaging voice helps inspire confidence and I recommend sticking to his publications and recordings.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.27.13        Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 21.28.52

The beauty of the 8-week programme is that it is easy enough to self-administer with the aid of one book and its accompanying CD     (Audiobook format)

I am currently into week three of the eight week programme. Although it is impossible to say whether the small improvements in my condition are down to increased medication, or being signed off work, or the mindfulness guided meditations, or the love and support received from family and friends, or any possible combination of these factors – I can say quite categorically that the meditations are something I look forward to doing for the peace they give me for a few minutes at least (nothing offered me proper peace of mind before). I can also say categorically that I now understand the principles (if not the detail) of the science behind the whole approach, and thereby buy in to the whole strategy. It offers real hope of being able to cope much better with the mad world we live in.

What it all means for me returning to campaigning and politics remains to be seen. Being in the Green Party is swimming against the tide (the green surge has slowed the tide, not reversed it). Being an ecosocialist within Wales Green Party is battling against a further rip current. I became exhausted and drowned. I will not be rushing back to that environment. I have other more pressing priorities for when I am in good enough shape to take them on – namely sorting out my employment situation and properly attending to the wonderful people in my life that I may have taken for granted and neglected for too long. They have been my lifesavers and I owe them everything.

I fully acknowledge that part of the great depression that envelops many people is not having the support of other people around them. But at the end of the day, sufferers of depression, and indeed everyone living the rat race of a life we have created for ourselves, have everything to gain and nothing to lose from allowing mindfulness to give you that little bit extra control of your mind and the life your mind creates for you.

As Ruby Wax explains in her TED talk, we are simply not designed for the lifestyles we have created for ourselves. Material wealth and all the opportunity to ‘progress’ in the world does not create happy, well-adjusted people. Coming to terms with this truism and learning to enjoy the here and now has to be (at least part of) the way forward.

I have exhausted myself now. I will leave you with Ruby’s words, as she expresses it better than I can:

“It’s hard for me to write this and come up with words and sentences because it feels like no one is at the wheel of the ship – so who’s writing this? I’m pushing myself to keep going so I can remember what it looks like when it’s written down and for everyone else who suffers with this to say this is not your imagination, you are not being self indulgent (I’m fighting my mind on that one). It’s exactly what it says on the bottle, it’s poison, terrifying and a complete mummification in nothingness. This is physical and some part of your brain is trying, as it always does, to find a reason. For other illnesses when you feel sick there’s an explanation – you might say to yourself, “Of course I feel terrible I have an infection, a virus, cancer” (pick one). With dementia at least you might be the last to know that something is wrong, but with depression you’re completely aware and cognisant that you’re gone and what’s left of you is on auto pilot that tries to steer you into the bathroom and find food and that’s about it. I feel I’m on a sinking ship and this writing is an SOS signal.”

There is no need to send me a lifeboat, but a little patience while I get my shit together would be appreciated. Thanks.

PS – I just stumbled across this video from another of my idols: Rational and Rambling 

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.59.10