Sunday, 24 October 2021

Verity returns from the grave

I spoke too soon. Verity, my laptop, will not be feasting in Valhalla. The treasure-laden longship, piled high with firewood, dragon sail unfurled and billowing, will not be needed now. The torches I had ready to cast into that ship can be put out. No spectacular Viking Funeral for her yet.    

Whatever glitch stopped her charging up the smaller of her two batteries has apparently unglitched itself. That battery, which had run down to 0% charge, has returned to 100%:

And it's now once more possible to detach the screen, walk away from the keyboard base, and use the screen as an independent tablet. Well, for as long as its small battery lasts!

It's quite a magical transformation, and in theory it's handy to have the ability to disconnect the screen and wander away with it into another room, leaving the keyboard part attached to sundry cables and plug-ins. But in fact I've never used my Surface Book in Tablet Mode, not for any practical purpose. 

Anyway, Verity is triumphantly back, and firing on all cylinders. But I have no idea whether this astonishing revival is going to be permanent. For now, though, it's most welcome and a great relief. I hadn't looked forward to coping with the uncertainties of a limping laptop, let alone splashing out on a new one at great cost. 

I think some will say: this is a warning. Don't buy another Surface Book. Well, this is the first hardware problem I've had after five years of intensive use. So I'm not going to complain at the service I've had from Verity, which has been loyal and faithful, and includes (since mid-April 2016) the processing of roughly 80,000 photographs and scans, and the writing of some 800 blog posts. 

The real issue is, how much will I want to spend further down the line, when the natural time to buy a replacement comes around? I've got a feeling that it won't be luxury-machine money. Not if I need the cash for something connected with buying that all-electric car I've been talking about...

Saturday, 23 October 2021

A definite sign of mortality

Oh dear. The smaller of the two batteries on my Microsoft Surface Book laptop (Verity) has now stopped charging. This is the one in the detachable screen. It isn't very large, but it allows me to detach the screen from the keyboard and use it independently - like a tablet - for a while. As the charge in the screen battery has now dwindled to 0%, the screen can't be detached any more. Not that I ever did want to use it as a tablet, but this is now an option gone. 

The larger battery in the keyboard still happily charges up to 100%, but overall, with the screen battery dead, my total battery capacity has shrunk to 78% of what it was. Meaning more frequent charging from the mains. That's never a problem in real life, whether at home or (as now) away in the caravan. I still expect Verity to give me excellent service for a long while yet. Just not as far into the future as I'd hoped. 

Bought in August 2016, she's had five years of heavy usage, far more usage than most laptops I'd say. So I'm not complaining if, after so much hard work, one of her batteries has thrown in the towel. But things might get difficult if the main battery expires as well. That would mean spending money on a replacement device without delay. And when I'm at home, to take delivery. I'm not sure I'd want to go on an extended trip, if any further signs of mortality appear.

What would the financial hit be? If I go for another Surface Book from Microsoft - it would of course be one with Windows 11 loaded up, or at least a free upgrade in the pipeline - I'd be happy with just 256GB of RAM, as the new machine would be (just as Verity is now) purely for photo-processing and blogging duties, with mass-storage handled by external SSDs. I wouldn't really need a detachable screen, but I'd want that screen to be excellent, and the processor and graphics card to be adept at coping with large photo files. 

What would such a specification cost me at the moment? Currently £2,199 from MS itself. Much as expected. That gets me a 15 inch screen, 16GB of RAM, and an Intel Core i7 processor with a good Nvidia graphics card. A 13.5 inch screen would be fine, but I'm thinking of occasional TV-streaming duties. In any case, the larger-screened version of the Surface Book is available to buy, whereas the smaller-screened (and cheaper) version is currently out of stock, due no doubt to demand, the world shortage of chips, and delivery issues.

Hmm. If Verity can carry on as usual with only one battery, I'll stick with her. And just keep my fingers crossed about being left with dead metal half-way through a future holiday. Although, for all I know, she can operate purely on mains power if both batteries are kaput, so long as she's plugged in. In which case, given a handy power socket, she may continue to do her stuff for years ahead - just like my last laptop did.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Getting in quick

A few posts back I deliberated what best to do after my two-year fixed-price contracts for Gas and Electricity with SSE come to an end on 1st December. At that time they had nothing to offer me. But a couple of days ago, when I fired up the SSE app on my phone, I saw that they had cobbled together three ongoing options.

These were:

# Go onto their Standard tariff, estimated to cost me £123 a month (with a variable price), compared with £110 a month (fixed price) just now, but coming to an end.

# Move to their Two Year Fixed tariff, which they reckon would cost me £223 a month.

# Move to their Three Year Fixed tariff, costing £162 a month.

Should I stay with SSE? Well, I do think it would be good policy to sit tight with a major supplier. SSE have been a decent well-organised supplier, never giving me trouble: that counts for something. Also, they installed my smart meter a few years ago, so that they constantly monitor my energy consumption and never have to send me estimated bills. Shifting to a new supplier might mean my existing meter no longer communicates information, with possible hassle resulting. So, all in all, it seems best not to change suppliers. 

Which SSE option, then?

It's almost a no-brainer to go for the Standard tariff. Not quite, because a Three-Year Fix is always worth thinking about. But I can't see the advantage in paying £51 a month more, just to have long-term energy-price certainty, when the government's Price Cap policy will be in force until 2023, meaning that the Standard tariff, though certain to get a big hike every six months, will remain cheaper than a fixed deal for maybe a year ahead. 

Do I need to act now? I'm on holiday! Surely this can be left for a month or so more?

Well, I don't think so. I think even big companies like SSE (now part of the even larger Ovo group) will look askance at offering rock-bottom variable-price deals by the zillion. The Price Cap forces them to do it, but it's a loss-maker for them, and they may come to decide that, for the future, only a restricted class of customers allocated to them by Ofgem from other suppliers who have gone bust can have their least-expensive option. The rest will have to move to a different (more expensive) kind of deal - or go elsewhere. 

That might apply to me. So I've acted now. I'm moving to SSE's variable tariff, and have confirmation of that from them. Effective 2nd December. 

So until April just a little more to pay each month. Then, when the Price Cap is inevitably raised, rather more for the following six months, though still less than a Fixed deal. And a year from now, I'll be getting out my crystal ball and deciding afresh what to do. Or sooner, depending on what happens on the volatile energy market. 

It's impossible to feel happy about Gas and Electricity prices, now or in the future. The only certainty is that they will regularly increase. All one can do is plan ahead on one's best hunch, and act at the proper moment.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Public toilets: how I hate unisex loos!

I rely quite heavily on public toilets when out and around. I keep myself amply hydrated, and find it expedient to go every two hours for maximum comfort - although of course if need be I can hold out for longer. But, on average, a toilet stop every couple of hours is normal for me. 

I'm quite fastidious, and will turn my nose up at a loo that isn't in a nice state. Let's face it, a woman has to plonk her bottom directly onto a toilet seat that many other women and girls have sat on since that seat was last cleaned. We rely on each other to leave the seat as spick and span as we hoped to find it. And more often than not, that's how it is. I'm not frequently confronted by a wet toilet seat that some ignorant sluttish creature has dribbled onto, and then failed to wipe dry afterwards. 

In any case, I reduce the possibility of a distasteful experience by choosing my comfort-stop with care. A ladies' toilet you pay to enter is always a better-than-average bet, as persons with slovenly or dirty habits tend to dislike paying for anything. Mind you, an entirely free public toilet can still be a clean and pleasant place; although too often I hear users come in, do their business, then leave with nary a sound of running water and a blast of air. Ugh. Makes you want to open the exit door with rubber gloves. 

Public toilets are not social clubs, and I wouldn't expect to have the kind of woman-to-woman exchanges you might occasionally get in pub or restaurant toilets, when touching up lipstick, or brushing hair. But even so, ladies' loos, in public spaces or on private premises, in superstores or hotels, all have the status of being female-only places where (cleaners apart) men must not go. It's a thing that women rely on. Whatever the reason for entering a toilet - not always to have a pee - a woman knows that if she doesn't necessarily have the place to herself, she will at any rate be sharing it with fellow females who know and understand, and will be on her side. It's a sanctuary. It's a place to cry; to calm down in; to grab a few moments to think; to consider some next step; a place to repair both face and feelings. 

Indeed, I'd say that this sanctuary function is as important as any other. And I don't think it's recognised by men on council committees. If they did recognise it, they wouldn't be so assiduous in replacing traditional men's and ladies' toilets with blocks of unisex loos that both sexes share. 

This post isn't about the question of unisex toilets for non-binary individuals. I'm quite out of touch with what might be going on in that area. I do nevertheless have a point of view on it. I think non-binary people deserve consideration, but I still want well-defined and recognisable women's spaces. I'd be doubtful about a non-binary person supporting my preference for traditional ladies' toilets, or to agree that preserving their sanctuary function is important. But I'd hope that such a person would see why it matters to me. 

Likewise, this post isn't about whether transgender women should be allowed to enter a ladies' toilet. Again, I'm not up to speed on this, and I haven't been following the pro and con arguments. But I do have a personal view, which is that all persons who look like women, and behave like women, and have a woman's outlook and social situation, and live a woman's life, should without question be able to use a ladies' toilet. 

Back to my main theme. Let me relate an experience I had in Plymouth last month. I'd explored the waterfront, starting at Sutton Harbour and the Barbican, and was working my way past the Citadel and the Hoe, and on towards Millbay. By then I was looking for a loo. A modern-looking bock of toilets appeared, set in a small park. Hmm. Unisex. And 20p was needed to enter one of the individual toilets. I tried to guess which of them might be the nicest to use. Choice made, did I have a 20p coin? I hardly ever used coins, but there was one - and only one - in my purse. I dropped it in the slot and went in, locking the door behind me. 

My heart sank. Some man had left his urine all over the toilet seat and the floor in front. How disgusting. Oh well, let's mop it all up and make the best of it. But there was no toilet paper: the dispenser was empty. This really was bad. Well, I wasn't even going to attempt to stand in a pool of urine while hovering above the seat. I unlocked the door and stepped out. A woman was waiting outside, clearly eager to go in after me. I warned her what to expect. She still went in.

What to do now? I had no more coins. Then I saw that there were two sides to the block. Ah, that was interesting. One side was for people paying with coins. The other side was for contactless payment. And this side, the contactless-payment side, looked distinctly less used. I wondered why: surely most people had credit or debit cards, or could pay using a phone app? Well, evidently not. 

I thought: this must be the smallest amount I've yet paid using my phone - only 20p!

Inside, it was as if freshly cleaned. It smelled nice. No man with a drippy willy had been in here! I sat down with confidence. Reams of toilet paper! I took my time. Those who still used coins were queuing on the other side of the block for a third-rate pee. I was on this side, the side of the future, and having a luxury pee. 

When I came out, I saw people looking at the contactless payment pads on this and the other doors with puzzlement, as if they couldn't believe their eyes. All eyes then looked at me, as I emerged. I felt like saying 'It's great in there, give it a go' but I knew they wouldn't know how to open the door without a coin, so I just smiled. Truly, the world is now split between the High-Techs and the No-Techs.

It struck me that I'd never before seen a public loo that needed a contactless payment to enter it. So this was a significant historical event. 

Thursday, 7 October 2021

I can't upgrade to Windows 11

Huh. Using Microsoft's upgrade health-checker after a warning that there's a problem, I have discovered that there is no way I can upgrade to Windows 11, the new operating system coming shortly. 

My 2016-vintage Microsoft Surface Book (Verity) is good to go in all respects except for its Intel Skylake i5 processor, which won't suit the new OS. A processor that - it seems - has become obsolete in only five years. And yet it was new (and considered pretty powerful) back in 2016. 

I feel a touch short-changed. 

And it's puzzling. I'm still getting sterling service from my laptop. Its main job is to bulk-process all the photographs I take, which may mean hundreds of shots each week when I'm on holiday. The processor, aided by the NVIDIA graphics card, is still handling that large workload with ease, despite the pictures from my new camera (Lili) being 60% bigger than those from the previous camera, requiring correspondingly more processing effort. 

So I'm very surprised that this still-capable processor is now deemed to be not up to the job. Is there some commercial issue behind this? Such as Microsoft and Intel being spiteful and awkward with each other? Who knows. The bottom line is this: if Microsoft have decided that my laptop can't install Windows 11, then there's nothing I can do about it.

Of course, they are suggesting (pushing?) one obvious solution: I could buy a new laptop - preferably a shiny new top-spec Surface Book. But I don't want to do that just now. 

There is some good news: they will continue to support Windows 10 for another four years to October 2025, and regular updates for that OS will come to me during that time. 

Well, that's all right. I am perfectly happy with the look and feel of Windows 10, and I don't think that - for my needs - Windows 11 would in any way be an essential upgrade. Perhaps more importantly, I can continue to use certain Nikon and Epson photo applications of 2007 and 2008 vintage that might well not run in Windows 11. These applications suit me fine, and they were either paid for long ago, or came free with a camera purchase long ago. If I were forced to install modern substitutes, it would involve considerable expense. Either a big one-off cost, or (more likely) an unwelcome monthly subscription. So staying with Windows 10 is actually a no-cost option.

And a forced laptop purchase in 2025 isn't a bad thing. Verity will be nine years old by then - no doubt still functioning perfectly, but her battery won't be in the best of health, and I will surely be hankering after an even nicer screen. I had in fact been wondering when would be the best time to replace her. Now Microsoft have decided that for me; and I can build the cost of a new laptop in 2025 into my Savings Plan. 

It will probably set me back £2,500 in today's values. And that will be for another Surface Book, but not one with a huge amount of storage. I won't need it. 500GB will be more than adequate. Nowadays I keep almost everything in external storage, and not on the laptop itself. I've changed the way I do things, to make that possible. I'll certainly want Surface Book quality, and a very nice screen, keyboard and touchpad, but I won't have to pay £3,000 to £4,000 for the very best version that has it all. 

On the whole then, this announcement from Microsoft about Windows 11 has helped to crystallise my plans, and reassure me that I'll be perfectly OK if I stick with Verity for the next four years. 

She will have plenty to do. I still have thousands of prints to scan and digitise, despite all the assiduous scanning during the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021. And the extra caravanning I will do - those weeks away help to keep my household bills down - will mean extra photography in new places around the country. Maybe in Ireland at some point - terra incognita just now. Then, if my ancient TV set packs in - that's the Samsung telly I inherited from Mum and Dad in 2009 - Verity will have to become my TV instead. I can't possibly justify buying a swish modern 60-inch panel when my viewing is limited to a few hours of the Yesterday channel each week. And new episodes of Vera or Death in Paradise.

So: a new laptop in 2025. And a new car in 2026, hopefully. 

At least I've already got a new camera. One less thing to budget for in the future.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The fall of Facebook

I am so glad that I decided to shun Facebook years ago, and have never had accounts with WhatsApp and Instagram. 

What, I did have a Facebook account once upon a time? I confess that I did. After a long period of resistance, I eventually signed up in July 2010. I really had no specific reason to do so, and was simply bowing to gentle pressure from family and friends at the time. My connection with Facebook was  short-lived. 

I disliked it from the start. It was an uncontrolled space for silly and sometimes ill-considered messaging. Any serious original post, or any serious comment, was buried within hours. Gone and forgotten, or never noticed. Or it met with unexpectedly frivolous, or rude, responses. I was apparently fortunate not to receive more vitriol. It seemed that Facebook encouraged prickly exchanges. It was also attracting trolls. I'd already had a few of those on my blog; but the Facebook variety was apparently more vicious still. Facebook didn't seem to care. 

But mainly it was the stories one heard of people misunderstanding Facebook's ever-changing privacy settings, and accidentally making indiscreet remarks that gave away family secrets, or private information, causing squabbles and upsets. Then there might be a witch-hunt, to find out who had blown the gaff - or had deliberately set out to stir up trouble. 

I remember, years ago, being verbally attacked at a social meet-up by somebody whose current secret (their marriage engagement, something that needed to be kept under wraps for the time being) had been made public by someone called 'Lucy'. This person thought it was me. Just because we were both at the time part of the same real-life social group - although I was certainly not one their close friends, and could not possibly have known anything about the secret. Nor was I, by then, even 'on Facebook'. 

Their fury, their jumping to conclusions on no evidence whatever, the shock of someone thinking that I could misbehave like that, or could be so malicious, took me aback. I took the bull by the horns. I had a face-to-face talk with them, and convinced them that it couldn't have been me. They climbed down, and tried to make amends, including I think a special invitation to the wedding. But the damage was done. And I chiefly blamed Facebook for this bad experience, for facilitating an indiscreet message, and encouraging an aggressive reaction in the person most damaged.    

Facebook wasn't simply a frequent vehicle for such mishaps and misunderstandings. It was a constant irritation. I objected to intrusive messages that asked me to watch some supposedly very funny video from some very dubious source. I hated to see people whom I thought well of making inane comments, having clearly descended into a kind of mindless Facebook Mode. 

More seriously, I was disturbed by the phenomenon of lonely or vulnerable people basing a pseudo social life entirely on constant Facebook exchanges, claiming hundreds of supportive 'friends' when really all of them were strangers, and none of them genuinely caring. This was illustrated when an unbalanced woman in Brighton, who in her turmoil had threatened suicide already, reached a point where she was finally prepared to kill herself. She started to give warning to her many local Facebook friends that her time was up, and that she really meant it this time. I suppose she imagined that these 'friends' would gallop to her rescue, or at least alert the health services, so that despite her total despair, she would be saved for another day. But all they did was chew over her messages, debating whether she could be believed, or whether this was just another false cry for help. Nothing was done. Some of these 'friends' knew where she lived, and could easily have walked over to find out how she really was. But not one of them bothered. Meanwhile she died in her bedsit. So much for all those 'Facebook friends', I thought. And how awful, for a woman in difficulties to be so dependent on an illusory social circle. 

I left Facebook in the end because I was spooked by unwelcome attention from someone I'd had a pleasant conversation with, but who wanted to make much more of it. So that every time I fired up Facebook, this person would telephone me on my landline, hoping for a chat. Always within a few seconds of my logging on. I never got a chance to work out how to configure my settings so that I could explore Facebook quietly and anonymously. This person would interrupt my concentration, and I'd abandon the attempt. It was a gross intrusion.

It was also, after a while, utterly unnerving. I felt this person was waiting by her computer like a spider, phone to hand, in case I logged on. It felt very much like being stalked. 

One day she phoned me every hour through the day, right into the early evening. I couldn't stand any more of it, so I picked up my landline - it was her - and told her sharply not to phone again. To my surprise, she complied. But I wanted no repeat of this experience, and closed down my Facebook account.

Or tried to.

I discovered that it wasn't easy to get out of Facebook's clutches. Uninstalling Facebook didn't achieve it. No; one had to go through a long-winded and well-hidden process. It took me three attempts before I finally got it done correctly. Then I had to wait a week or more for those key-presses to take final effect. Facebook clearly hoped I'd change my mind. As if I were going to change my mind about this hateful app!

But by late April 2013, I was off their records. I checked this by trying to log on. The old account couldn't be reached. However, I found that somehow I had set up a new one, and was live again on Facebook - albeit as if I were a different Lucy Melford. I didn't use that new account. I immediately went through all the necessary steps to delete it, all over again. And I have stayed well away ever since.

I'm still not quite convinced that Facebook have binned all trace of those accounts. I suspect that they have retained some basic stuff about me deep in their vaults. To a business like theirs, personal information is valuable, even if it's getting a bit old. So as a matter of commercial policy, it would make no sense for them to obey user instructions to destroy any records they have. And indeed those regular Facebook scandals you hear about assure me that the person who steers Facebook, and sets the tone, is heedless of best-practice standards and shies away from anything that will dent revenue, whether current or only potential.

In the years since I detached myself in 2013, the popularity of Facebook has grown humongously, and it seems that only social deviants and hermits now exclude themselves from it - and myself. Similarly with Facebook's tame creatures WhatsApp and Instagram. Commercial organisations, government agencies, and important service-providers all assume that their customers or are signed up with Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. That's not good, especially if they ever begin to deny access to goods or services to customers, unless it's through one of these platforms. 

I'm increasingly feeling like a drop-out, a rebel - or a freedom fighter. 

It seems to me that all these organisations and agencies - and of course the general public - are putting an undue amount of trust in these three particular interconnected social media platforms, which are all under the ultimate control of one man: Mark Zuckerberg. This is surely a great mistake. With the fresh allegations now emerging, I hope something decisive will be done to dissipate their social penetration and the influence that brings. I don't mind elected governments having control. I object to unelected private individuals being given the same power. 

Sunday, 3 October 2021

A new UK sticker for international travel - but why not a GPL sticker?

It seems that the government has been quietly making little changes to emphasise our separation from the EU, and to make the 'United Kingdom brand' more distinctive. A request to the relevant international body some months ago became legal on 28th September: the old GB sticker on vehicles taken abroad must now be a UK sticker. The same applies to a number plate that shows GB, especially if encircled by EU stars. It must now be covered up, and only UK shown.

Personally I don't mind. I agree with the government that a heightened sense of Britishness needs to be encouraged. Also, GB doesn't actually include all the country as presently constituted. Great Britain - the GB on the international vehicle badge - is merely the main island of the British Isles archipelago. It doesn't include the island of Ireland, and therefore omits Northern Ireland. The new UK badge puts that right. 

And I saw one of these UK stickers today - for the first time - in a car park in Littlehampton, on a white Dacia Duster. You can see that the owner has not only stuck a UK sticker onto his or her pride and joy, but has covered the 'GB' at the left end of the rear number plate with UK and a Union Jack:

I'm guessing that he or she was a fellow Brexit voter back in 2016, to adopt this change with such alacrity!

So far, so good. But I don't think the new UK sticker will have a long life. The government needs to make fresh plans now to replace it with a sticker that refers to England alone. A Committee with a wide-ranging remit needs to be set up, to look into this most important matter. Our international prestige is at stake.

They will have to recognise that Scotland will have its independence. Then it won't be the United Kingdom any more, as Wales is only a Principality, and Northern Ireland is just a Province. And Wales will follow Scotland into independence soon enough. And it's inevitable that Northern Ireland will merge with the Republic. I'm convinced that all this will happen well within my remaining lifetime: within ten years, twenty at most, there will just be England. And a UK sticker will then be as misdescriptive as the old GB sticker was. 

The sticker will need to show something else. What should that be?

GB seems to be completely out. But what about using only the B, to stand for 'Britain'? No, B has already been assigned to Belgium.

Just G then? (Secretly meaning 'Great' - but without naming the country. So subtle) It would tie in with the identification codes for aircraft, which in this country always start with 'G'. So there's an argument for consistency. But again no. G has been collared by Gabon. 

The obvious then: E for 'England'! No dice. Spain has got E. 

Well then, what about ENG for England? Yes, that's available. It's three letters though. But a surprisingly large number of countries use three-letter codes, including some pretty important countries. Examples are: Australia (AUS), Canada (CDN), India (IND), Ireland (IRL), Mexico (MEX), Russia (RUS) and the United States of America (USA). So ENG would be up there with major players.

But ENG is so obvious and humdrum. Why not something more unusual, or poetic, or mystical? Such as:

ALB for Albion.

BL for Blighty.

RB for Rule Britannia.

Indeed, BRW for Britannia Rules the Waves.

GPL for Green and Pleasant Land.

SI for Sceptred Isle.

LHG for Land of Hope and Glory.

All the above are available, and unmistakably refer to England. I think that Committee ought to seriously consider one of these very suitable choices that celebrate the National Pride. 

I hope they won't decide to be provocative. They might go for something that sends a message to our European friends. A sticker that keeps the U of UK, but changes the K to Y:

UY for Up Yours.

But you know what Committees are like. They play for safety. They prefer to be pink and fluffy. Maybe in the end they'll go for something that both truly describes England, and would be internationally regarded as appropriate, without a single word of dissent.

LMB for Land of Make Believe.

Passed unanimously.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Gas and electricity costs

Oh dear. I knew that gas and electricity costs were bound to rise from now on, for one reason or another, but this present hike in the cost of domestic gas for cooking and heating is most unwelcome. It also affects the price of electricity, as power stations are mostly run on gas nowadays. My current 2 Year Fixed-Price deal with SSE (now part of Ovo) runs out on 1st December. So, like a great many other people, I will face a price rise this winter. What should I do? I can't escape paying more than I do at the moment. What's the best plan?

It helps that for those on the default variable tariff, Ofgen's price cap limits what can be charged. The cap has just been raised, from yesterday (1st October), and it means a price increase that will hurt for those on low incomes. It will be raised again from 1st April, and I'm sure that the price increase then will be even stiffer. 

SSE are assuming that over the next year I will consume 23,124 kWh of gas, and 1,563 kWh of electricity. I'm on a smart meter, so they know my personal consumption pattern, which reflects the fact that for anything up to 100 days of the year I'm away in the caravan, and consequently not using up gas or electricity at home at anything like the normal rate. (It clearly pays me to be on holiday!)

SSE says I'm currently using electricity and gas at the rate of £110 per month, and tell me that if I want to adopt a new 2 Year Fix it will now cost me a whopping £184 per month. Gulp. I don't think so. Not yet, anyway. 

However, their default Standard tariff  - the variable one they will switch me to, if I don't take out a new fixed deal - will currently cost me only £121. It's comparatively low because of the price cap. But next April, when the cap is next changed, I'm sure I'll be paying rather more per month, if still on this Standard tariff - my guess is £155. And then, in October 2022, when the cap is raised further, I reckon I could be paying £180 per month on that Standard tariff. 

By October 2022, one year from now, the worldwide supply situation for gas may have improved, so that wholesale prices have become a little lower. Presently I'm thinking that a new 2 Year Fixed deal, taken out in September next year, might cost me 'only' £170 a month, slightly less than the Standard tariff will. So that's when I'll go Fixed again. 

Obviously, I don't have a magic crystal ball, and can only make reasonable guesses. I'll watch the unfolding price position closely, and revise my plans (and my budgeting) accordingly. 

Even if I'm right, it'll be no joke to end up paying £170 per month for my gas and electricity. That's a 55% increase on what SSE say I should be paying now, in October 2021. 

Still, a move to SSE's Standard tariff from December won't involve much immediate pain. Presently I'm paying £117 each month by direct debit - more than I need to - and I've built up some credit on both the gas and electricity accounts. So a modest hike to £121 per month won't break the bank. 

The real crunch will come next April. But it coincides with a pension increase, and this will soften the financial hit somewhat. 

But what about my Savings Plan, geared to buying a new all-electric car in 2026? I won't be able to put away so much. And the car purchase may have to be deferred to 2027 now. Drat.