Monday, March 29

An ordinary week

It’s been a rather ordinary week; a rather mundane time of long working hours and regular household chores. Our car is back from the repair yard. It looks as good as new. Outside Spring is finally making its mark; a month later than usual. The daffodils in full in our yard (although we’ve noted numerous stems yet to bloom further down the street) and the first blossoms have finally appeared in the back yard. Last night the clocks also went forward an hour, heralding the start of British Summer Time. Garry and I both noted how light it was at 7.00pm this evening. We’re finally eating dinner in daylight again.

Temperatures have also been milder. Today’s high reached 13.3°C. However, another cold spell is forecast in the run up to Easter. Wednesday’s high is predicted to drop to a chilly 7°C, with overnight lows of 1°C. This will be ideal training for our Easter vacation in Stockholm. The daily temperature isn’t forecast to rise above 6°C while we’re there with overnight lows dropping to -1°C. Weather at the Ice Hotel will be even colder, with daily highs of 0°C. I read this morning that the temperature inside the hotel will be -5°C.

Wednesday, March 17

The first daffodils of Spring

Hooray! Our first daffodils have burst into bloom. Spring is finally on its way. Just as horticulturalists have predicted the stems are shorter than normal thanks to unseasonally cold weather stunting their growth.

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Monday, March 15

Seeking sights and sunshine

The daffodils still haven’t bloomed. However, the buds are swelling. Our first flowers of the season can only be days away. Even better, the daytime temperature is finally heading into double digits. Today's high reached 11°C, while Wednesday’s high is forecast to hit a balmy 14°C. The warmer weather has arrived just in time for the Spring Equinox, now less than six days away.

Garry and I are busy making final preparations for three holidays planned for April and May. Two are side trips which make up our annual round-the-world ticket, and a third is a discount special from British Airways. We’ve scheduled each to coincide with forthcoming public holidays. However, we’re a little anxious as British Airway’s cabin crew have announced plans to strike. Currently the published strike dates are outside those of our travel but previous strikes disrupted flights for days afterwards. Hopefully, there will be aircraft in the right location on the right day over Easter.

The first vacation is an extended Easter break in Sweden. We’re flying to Stockholm for three days, before heading north to enjoy two days at the famous Ice Hotel in JukkasjÀrvi. Garry is keen to see Stockholm, while I’m keen to go north of the Arctic Circle and chance our luck for another sighting of the Northern Lights. We saw aurora borealis for the first time two years ago in Iceland, also at Easter.

Our next vacation will take advantage of the first public holiday in May. We’re off to Greece for a week of island hopping and touring ancient Greek ruins. Our tour takes in three days in Mykonos, two days in Santorini, followed by two final days in Athens. We’ve taken advantage of off-peak rates and booked ourselves into some incredible hotels.

Our final vacation will be a long weekend at the end of May, once again taking advantage of a public holiday. We’re off for three days in Copenhagen, neatly rounding off Garry’s progressive tour of the Nordics. In recent years we’ve made it to Oslo and Helsinki. Hopefully, we'll encounter some reasonable Spring weather over the next few months.

Tuesday, March 9

Pace yourself

Today's paper kindly warned us that this spring is likely to be unseasonably cool. I tend to believe them. We've experienced a week of wonderfully blue skies most days, accompanied by bitterly cold winds sweeping in from the Nordics. Today's overnight low is forecast to reach a chilly 2°C, before falling to 0°C overnight later in the week. Sunday night's low was even lower, dropping to an icy minus 2°C.

I also read today that the extreme cold weather has delayed England's daffodil season by up to four weeks. In previous years ago our garden was by filled to over-flowing with bright yellow blooms by early-March. However, this year the bulbs are still struggling to make their presence known and none have yet flowered. The trees are also bare, whereas two years ago most were smothered in blossom by this date. In fact, this winter has been so sodden and cold that a couple of smaller trees in the back yard simply toppled over last month rather than burst into blossom.

Monday, March 8

Hit and run!

A shocking surprise greeted us as we prepared to drive to the hardware store this weekend. As we approached our car, parked as always in the street, we discovered someone had hit it. Worse still, they'd driven off without leaving a note. The right rear side bumper and boot lid are completed mangled. The cat had been hit so hard, it's rear wheels were shunted a foot away from the kerb, leaving it parked at awkward angle.

Garry was most upset. After such a long and demoralising winter, this latest incident simply seems to add to our litany of winter woes. I was a little more sanguine. Sadly, it's not the first time I've had someone hit my car and disappear without a trace. We've submitted an insurance claim and take the car in for repair on Thursday. We're now a small part of the £54 million worth of insurance claims lodged nationwide every day.

In an ironic twist, we renewed our insurance a month ago, changing insurers in the process. The new insurer gave a better deal with a lower excess. Garry also discovered that we'd been charged insurance rates for a completely different (and more expensive) car form factor (a convertible rather than a sedan) for the last four years. It's our gas bill debacle all over again. I'm staggered that yet another UK company has been ripping us off for years. I swear I've never experienced such fundamental billing errors in Australia.

Wednesday, March 3

Cold feet in the morning

We endured more winter fun and games last week. The water main ruptured in our street. The subsequent loss of pressure meant no water was reaching our top floor apartment for two days. While the main was repaired within a day, a plumber had to come in and bleed air from the pipes before water could reach our floor again. Poor Garry endured two days without a hot shower, while I was forced to trundled off early to use the shower in our office. This marks our fifth ‘no hot water’ incident so far this winter. The novelty has definitely worn off.

Monday, March 1

Spring at last

Tomorrow is the first official day of Spring. The daffodils and snowdrops have started sprouting. I’ve even noticed buds on some trees starting to swell. These milestone couldn’t come soon enough. Winter has been particularly wearing this season. As recently as this week we soldiered through yet another bout of rain and sporadic snow flurries. On the home front, Garry has come down with a debilitating chest cold and I’ve been working extra-ordinary hours covering for staff on leave and senior vacancies we’re currently filling. With all this happening around me, I’m beginning to truly appreciate the psychological impact of the seasons on Britain life.

Thirty years ago, during the last winter as cold as the current season, civil unrest and union strikes crippled the nation. This infamous Winter of Discontent eroded confidence in the Government of the day, paving the way for the General Election that ultimately brought Margaret Thatcher to power in May 1979. History seems set to repeat itself as the nation’s major parties prepare for another General Election. The winter’s been harsh and current economic conditions are almost a bleak.

This week the Office for National Statistics revised last quarter’s GDP growth figure from 0.1% to 0.3%. In any other year this would have been positive news. However, the Pound’s value fell during the week as fears grow that GDP will contract again during the first quarter of 2010. This so-called double-dip recession is a distinct possibility for many reasons.

January’s foul weather hit retail sales hard as people stayed home. The pound has fallen again in value making basic imports, including petrol, more expensive. At the same time, VAT (goods and services tax) has returned to its pre-recession rate of 17.5% and several other Government stimulus policies have come to an end (including a stamp duty ‘holiday’ on house sales and rebates for scrapping old cars). Finally, factor in the dampening sentiment of a pending election, and you can understand why most economists think economic growth will be subdued at best.

Roll on Summer!

I came across these wonderful images of our Winter. While it’s been harsh and relentless, the nation has experienced some incredible scenes. Take a look.