30 October 2014

Heat

We are weeks away from needing to turn on the heat here. Even during the four years we lived in Maine, we never turned it on before Thanksgiving week and a couple of years it wasn't until Christmas week. I expect it'll be the same here. It rarely gets very cold here, although I have heard from a few people that it can happen. We aren't there yet--it was 60-ish and stuffy today and last night we had to open the bedroom windows. If we ever do get to the point where heat is required, we will either google or ask our neighbour how we operate out electric "central heating" as it's called here. It isn't central heating as we know it, but rather wall mounted electric heaters in each room (in our case, two in the kitchen/sitting room).
We do not plan on using the heater pictured unless we end up with some very cold weather that requires us to use it. There is another one in the room and that should be sufficient. Besides that, there seems to be little point in pumping out heat right next to the refrigerator and making that work harder! We were told by the guy who gave us a ride from Oranmore to Ballinrobe when we moved in here that these are storage heaters and they are meant to be set to come on during the nighttime off-peak electricity hours and then let the heat out during the day. The two heaters in the kitchen/sitting room and the one in the hallway are different from the ones in the bedrooms. I'm sure we'll figure it out! I don't think we will need the one in the hall or the spare bedroom anyway.

There have been some people who have already been heating for a couple of months--you could smell the fires burning in August. It seems that lots of people have solid-fuel burning stoves. They burn wood, or peat bricks, or even coal (!!!). When we first arrived, I would smell this weird "something's burning and it isn't wood" smell. I wondered whether it was peat. I smelled it when we were at the B&B in Oranmore and I smelled it when we got to Ballinrobe. It was around quite frequently and while I knew that some people still go cut peat, I wondered whether there were so many of them that I would be smelling it all the time.  It took some getting used to, because it was not a smell that agreed with me. I can't honestly say I like it now, but my stomach usually doesn't get queasy anymore as it did at first. Once Tesco changed their seasonal display in the entryway, I had a "DUH!" moment. They sell the stuff in bricks here, just like people in the US buy Duraflame logs or something like that.

Lots of the places in our immediate vicinity have oil heat in addition to any solid-fuel burning stove they may have. The back gardens have these little plastic (or at least they look like plastic) oil "tanks."
The neighbours were getting a delivery the other day. The semi-detached house we looked at before we looked at and decided to rent this apartment had both solid fuel and oil heat. There were several reasons why this apartment was more appealing, and the heating situation was just one. It seemed much easier to have electric heating--especially since we never use much--than to have to mess around trying to set up an account to have oil delivered.

As with everything, I will be doing my best to conserve energy and use as little of it as possible.

13 October 2014

TV License

When we moved into the apartment, we found a letter to the previous occupant in one of the drawers.
A couple of months ago, there was a bright generic notice tucked in our box that breathlessly warned us that TV license (spelled "licence" here) inspectors were in the area NOW!! At the same time, there were ads running on the radio about the fact that inspectors were out and that there are serious consequences for not having a license if you have a TV--and the fine can be as much as 1000 euro.


On Friday, we got a letter that stated that a check of the database indicated that there was no record of a TV license at this address and that we should contact the office listed at the top of the letter if one of three conditions applies--no TV at the address, a valid license for the address, or incorrect information. I emailed them this morning, told them there was no TV here, and got a reply within 5 minutes thanking me for my correspondence and stating that the database would be updated.

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the rules for TV licenses. They are an annual thing and cost 160 euro. That covers all of the TVs a person has and if I remember correctly, the license is given by name, so if someone moves, they can have it apply at the new address. This 160 euro charge can be waived for people over 70 and some others if they meet certain criteria. It does not cover any kind of cable of satellite service--it is just a fee for having a TV and it's how they fund public broadcasting.

If there had been a TV here, we would have been responsible for getting the license, even though it would just be another piece of furniture. If the TV was broken or put away somewhere, we would still have to pay for the license because the assumption is that it could be fixed if it was broken, or taken out and used at some point if it was stored somewhere--if there is a TV on the premises, the occupant is required to get the license.

A fair number of available places include TVs in the list of furnishings. If we end up wanting to rent such a place in the future, we will ask that the TV be removed before we agree to rent it. I have no desire to cough up 160 euro for something that I will never use!

01 October 2014

Water and Taxes

Water charges go into effect across the country today. As we have come to expect here, things are off to a bad start! Many people are angry and they have a right to be so, it seems. The entire "scheme" was a mess before it even began (projects are called schemes here, which calls to my mind an element of shady underhandedness--it seems appropriate).
 To begin with, it was not known until yesterday morning at 7 a.m. what the final decisions about actual charges would be, even though there have been wildly disparate numbers thrown around for months. These charges went into effect at midnight. Apparently, most people have not been paying for water for quite some time and are not happy about doing so in the future. For the first 9 months, everyone will get charged at the assessed rate. For us, that will be 278 euro per year (176 for the first adult and 102 for the second). For families with grown children living at home, tack on another 102 euro for each--it adds up fast. Under 18s will get some kind of allowance. They supposedly have been sending out packets for people to fill out and return. This has been going on for over a month, they say, but we have not received one. This will allow people to claim allowances for children and health conditions. It will require people to provide PPS numbers (like social security numbers) and this has people up in arms.

At the end of 9 months, the story goes, people will begin getting charged for actual usage because the meters will be installed (or at least 80% of them will be) and readings will be taken. If a household uses less than the assessed volume, they will get a credit and if it's more, they will start paying for their actual usage. Bit of a problem there, too. Some people have photos of their meters that have already been ticking. So yesterday there was a guy on the news trying to explain things. One of the hosts asked how all of the meters were going to be read by midnight. The guy dodged the question. The host tried again. Another dodge. Finally, as though he was talking to a young child, he explained that people were tweeting photos of their water meter readings--one was at 55,000 liters. Another at 10,000. The guy repeated that if people use less they will get a credit. The host asked him how they could know how much they used if the meters were not read before the charges kick in--if you don't do a reading, you have no baseline from which to start counting. After the 5th attempt, the guy said, "It is Irish Water's job to read the meters. We just provide oversight." Fail.

The first bills do not arrive until January, so I expect there will be another hassle to add to the regularly scheduled Eircom nonsense. I have no faith at all that Irish Water will be professional or competent. A woman from Cork is already suing the government to try and stop the scheme. It is astonishing how convoluted things can get here. It seems that a big tangled mess is produced rather quickly and it all goes downhill from there. We have been hearing about this for months--protests, work stoppages preventing meters from being installed, court cases, different stories about charges, allowances and how it will all work--it's a circus.

To add to people's misery, there are many people around the country that have had boil notices for a very long time! Undrinkable water is apparently a fairly common feature around the country! People's water sometimes comes out of the tap brown. People have described clumps of moss coming out of the spigot. Earlier on, it was suggested that people with undrinkable water would be allowed to pay a reduced rate (!!!!!) for their water supply!! No surprise that anger erupted and it was finally decided that they will be exempt from paying for water supply, but will have to pay for the water that goes down the drain. It is sometimes hard to believe that this is Europe in 2014.

We had a few days last week of thinking Bill was going to forgo his monthly chat with Eircom because they made a mistake on our bill. He got the bill. It was correct! He paid it. Today, however, they kept their record of incompetence perfect and intact, with a letter that said we are past due and in danger of being shut off. Bill called and was talking to another person who told him a bunch of whatever crap flew into her head at the moment. Yes, the monthly charge was paid, but there was still that 150 euro deposit, which we were told would come off the bill--it is still there because they did not properly set up the direct debit nor did they send the paperwork we were told to expect when Bill talked to them last month. According to the latest Eircom clueless wonder, the 150 euros represented all of the past bills we have never paid--LOL. Bill pointed out that he has paid all of the bills within days of receiving them. She said she had to go talk to someone else and asked if she could call him back. He told her to send the papers he was supposed to get last month. She said she would. And I know what that's worth--nothing at all. Of course she has not called back. No surprise there.

We stopped at the pharmacy today so Bill could get some prescriptions filled. It's right around the corner.

A couple of months ago he needed one of his medications and we didn't yet have our medical cards. The doctor scribbled the prescription on a piece of letterhead and that was that. Now we do have the medical cards, so everything was carefully printed out in quadruplicate. We did not have to pay for any of the medication, but we did have to pay 7.50 euro in tax. That's not a problem, but it is a bit puzzling. I have yet to figure out how the VAT works here. I think the highest level is 23%, but I am not sure what gets taxed at that rate or one of the lower rates or not at all! When we bought our slow cooker, it cost 20 euro and I figured on paying another 4 in tax. It wasn't taxed at all! I think I would rather see discretionary purchases like slow cookers taxed before people's medications. I didn't get a chance to ask what the price of the three prescriptions would have been--we know the one he got before was 6.60, but we don't know how much of that was tax. In any case, Bill's medications are not very expensive, so the tax is not very much, and I'm not concerned about paying it. For people on expensive medications, though, the tax could be a real burden.

We had the same pharmacist this time as we did the first time and we both like her. Competent people really stand out here and she is one of those. She is friendly and volunteers information in a clear, concise, professional manner. 

I guess the news will be all about water charges for a day or two and then they will get back to reporting on the regular government circus. I think that sometime this week there is supposed to be a debate about whether to have a referendum regarding whether to remove the laws against blasphemy from the Constitution. I think in the spring there will also be votes on whether or not to remove the language that says women belong in the home, but I am not sure if this still requires more debate or discussion. In Europe. In 2014.

Clarification: Although we sometimes get annoyed at the incompetence of Irish companies like Eircom, mostly we have gotten to the point where we just laugh at what goes on here. Except for the human rights violations of women and asylum seekers, which are serious, ongoing, and disturbing, most of what goes on is really rather comical--like a Saturday Night Live skit or an old Abbott and Costello movie. It's impossible to take it seriously. Most mornings, listening to the radio gives us something to laugh at and we learn that we still have the capacity for amazement.