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Monday, May 09, 2016

Brexit or Bremain?

On 23 June 2016, the UK electorate will visit the polls (or some ratio of them will bother to) to decide whether we should remain in the EU.
There are big campaigns - Vote Leave ("Vote Leave Ltd"), Leave.EU, Remain, Britain Stronger in Europe ("In Campaign Ltd"), aiming to capture those floating voters or convert a few.

There are several main arguments and lots of lies or out-of-context/missing-half arguments being used by both sides to try and persuade the floating voters. I'd like to cover a few and fill in some holes in those claims using information from various sources - media and politicians or leaders on the opposite side to some arguments, lobbying bodies and a few independent groups.

Cost to the UK of EU membership?

  • Certainly much less than the £350 million a week as I've seen quoted. Even if it was, thats a bit over 2% of the total UK public spending budget. Not a huge cost.
  • Less our £74m rebate (taken off before payment, like a shopping voucher) - negotiated by Mrs. Thatcher (hated though she may be by many, be thankful for this!).
  • Less £88m spent back here directly on farmers and regional aid.
  • Less £27m spent directly here for research in universities and companies.
Total cost (unless I'm not aware of further sums): £160million per week (rounded to 2 significant figures as per other figures).

Its impossible to avoid spending all of this if we still wish to trade and move people between UK and EU easily, and we get a good package deal for all those benefits - countries not in the EU that still want to be part of the "single market" pay much more per benefit than we do, and they still have to abide by many EU laws in order to do so. There's no simple way to cut off all our EU spending, we'd leave ourselves very isolated if we did and be heading into the European backwaters economically and technologically.

If taking more control over the money we currently pay to EU, do you think the government would pay as much of it to farmers or for research? It would almost certainly change which projects received more money, and I suspect (just a guess based on experience of our government) it would shift more to the commercial side - which would hurt our universities.

We've said it before and we'll say it again - the UK does not send £350m a week to Brussels - the rebate is deducted before the money is sent, which takes the contribution down to £276m a week.
That figure includes £88m a week spent in the UK on things like regional aid and support for farmers. The government could decide after a Brexit that it should take that money away from farmers and give it instead to the NHS, but it might be an unpopular decision in rural areas.
Then there's another £27m a week that goes to support things like research projects in UK universities and companies.

Worried about control of our(UK) own borders? We have the ability to turn away people missing a valid id, and to refuse entry from non-EU nationals. You might be thinking of the "EU border free zone — the Schengen area". We're not part of this. Being part of the EU means EU citizens with valid id have the right to free movement and work throughout the EU. This allows us to holiday and work abroad as well as foreign EU nationals to holiday and work here without visas (though further rules apply for longer-term stays, this is the basics). Giving up this could mean negotiating individual deals for all sorts of situations. That might leave us better or worse off, but you can't deny it would take time - likely several years, and until then the default status would apply and we'd be treated just like any other non-EU country by EU members [editor's, ie. me, expectation].
The United States is not keen on pursuing a separate free trade deal with Britain if it leaves the European Union, the US trade representative, Michael Froman, said – the first public comments from a senior US official on the matter. This could mean we end up with the same rules that eg. China, Brazil or India has to cope with when trading with the US. Cars, fuel and chocolate could be hit by their 2.5% import duty imposed on these other counteies due to this change [source http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/29/us-warns-britain-it-could-face-trade-barriers-if-it-leaves-eu ]
Government's leaflet claims and fact-checked rebuttals where appropriate (via 38-degrees):
Leaflet: "The UK is not part of the EU's border-free zone"

Source of the following snippets of article (from ft.com under the title "Three pieces of Brexit Bullshit") - parts cut to keep to the core of the issue from my view:

Three million jobs depend on the EU

[....snipped...]
The claim is that “up to 3.2 million jobs” were directly linked to exports of goods and services to other EU countries. That number passes a quick reality check: it’s about 10 per cent of UK jobs, and UK exports to the EU are about 10 per cent of the UK economy.
But even if “up to” 3.2 million jobs depend on trade with the EU, that does not mean they depend on membership of the EU. Nobody proposes — or expects — that trade with the EU will just stop. Three million jobs might well be destroyed if continental Europe was to sink beneath the waves like Atlantis, but that is not what the referendum is about.


£8.3 billion is £160 million a week. This is a huge number by personal standards, but in context, tiny - its only ~1% of the UK's public spending budget. The EU also spends money directly in the UK, for instance, in research grants, so the true cost of money that doesn't come back here directly is smaller. Those countries that pay for access to the single market without being in the EU pay much more for it. This money gives us many benefits though, and even if we only care about a few of those they'd be harder and more expensive to negotiate on individually, and some might not be available to us without further concessions.
Leaving would give us control over the money spent by the EU in the UK, but not guarantee that it would be spent on other things - that would be down to the government. I'm betting more of that money would end up elsewhere and not necessarily in a way that benefits all of us eventually (as research can do).

From fact-check of Michael Gove's Leave camp statements (performed for 38 degrees by independent fact checks who fact-checked both sides of the argument, in detail here):
“The EU has failed to secure trade deals with the huge economies of India, China and America. Outside the EU we can cut those deals”
"failed" for India and America only means failed so far, as negotiations are in place. However, the US side of this refers to "TTIP" of which many many people strongly disagree the clauses and power it gives to corporations over the government and its ability to set laws that help the people rather than companies, its also somewhat secret (until much was exposed in a leak recently). India talks for a similar agreement began in 2007 but nothing further is happening at present.
The UK cannot independently make agreements with other (non-EU) countries, we have to use the EU to do that and follow the group agreements; however, the EU is the biggest party there and is likely to come away with the more powerful side of the agreement if any were made. The UK may not end up with as favourable agreement individually (though it might be faster and easier to negotiate with us as a smaller group than the EU).
If we want to have easy trade with the EU and non-EU "single market" countries after splitting, we'd have to arrange that ourselves, and pay for the privilege; this would take years to set up and would be likely to cost considerably more than that part of the benefit we currently pay the £8.3billion for would. We'd still have to accept many EU laws in order to be part of the single market, so we can't get away with having no red tape in order to trade easily with the rest of the EC trading area - if one major point of leaving the EU is to have more freedom over our own laws, this somewhat cancels that out. The financial loss due to NOT being in the single market area would be significant, I doubt anyone in big international businesses wants that (lobbying would be strong and I don't think the government would hold up against it).
Leaving the single market would be the only way to fully control immigration though, as "free movement of people" applies to any countries in the European Economic Area.

Other surveys and industry (or representive groups) opinions
ADS (UK trade association representing Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space sectors) - 70% want to stay, 10% to leave, 20% don't care/don't know

Government and National Institutions, MPs...
George Osborne - Remain campaign
David Cameron - to stay

Bernie Ecclestone (old head of FIA, F1 racing) - Leave (thinks immigrants never contributed anything to economy, but also insanely thinks Putin should run EU and UK - what a way to push people the opposite direction Bernie!)

Treasury - produced a dim Brexit forecast of reducing economy by 6% (based on net migration reaching near three million between now and 2030) [source]
John Redwood (tory) - Vote Leave campaign
Boris Johnson - Vote Leave
Michael Gove - Vote Leave
Iain Duncan Smith - Vote Leave
Jeremy Corbyn - to stay
David Miliband (ex-Labour if you'd forgotten) - to stay

IMF (~= global bank) - "Britain leaving the EU could cause 'severe regional and global damage', the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned." (though Vote Leave says the IMF are consistently wrong)

[note: edited 11 May to correct Gove's direction; clarifying some easily misinterpretable long clauses; adding details from Gove's April Radio 4 speech]

BBC page with claims and facts from both sides: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36027205

Monday, April 11, 2016

Its been many years since I last changed the page design here and especially since Blogger grew some new templates and new features for templates which required overwriting the old one/various bits of upgrade work (am guessing), I just went with a new design. Hope you like it (constructive comments welcome). It also ought to (their demo hints at, anyway) work better on mobile. I'm most worried about the width reformatting appropriately or not for your screen, do comment on how good it is - I've saved the old look in case.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sofa/Bed - The Hunt for Red (or purple) September

Friends. Relatives. Tall friends and relatives (over 6'/182cm). Last minute layovers and too-expensive hotels. Small flats and no spare bedrooms (yet). What to do? Sofa bed!
We've both (wife and I) owned and experienced various furniture from the cheaper end of the sofa bed market, both to sit/sleep on ourselves and to provide for guests. They are a handy way to provide a bed of some sort to guests of all types if they visit to stay the night (or week) for whatever reason. But our current "click-clack" style (we've had 2 of these) only seems to last two or three years as our main sofa with daily use, and the latest one has now snapped in the middle so it sags - same way the last one went. My wife sits on/slides off the edge regularly, but I don't think thats a good reason for it to quit on us.

Lets go over the basic sofa/bed conversion mechanism types available today (excluding the basic futon, much simpler and different search to what we did). Btw, in case its not clear, when I write "seat cushion" or just "sofa cushion" I mean the one your butt goes on, "back cushion" should speak for itself - whether its a separate cushion or a hard surface.

"Click-clack" (aka. Modern Nordic?)

(see video demonstration of mechanism conversion action at youtube)
  • Cheaper, lighter than other mechanisms to move as most versions don't have a big sofa frame too (mechanism usually also easy to access and can be unbolted for easier transport/installation, though cumbersome/likes folding and unfolding by itself when holding at awkward angles to get round corners and up/down stairs - hint: use bungees and chord/parcel tape to secure beforehand!)
  • Design usually provides space underneath for vacuuming/some storage if desparate, or inside the sofa if it has a frame - no separate mattress to use up the space!
  • Simple mechanism (may need 2 people to convert if you're not big enough to need the 6' bed length or aren't used to moving/lifting beds and furniture)
  • Cushion compromise - single part performs both mattress+seat/back duties
  • Comfort limited. Allows for support (usually sprung wooden slats) under full length of mattress, so no frame struts poking you in the back/hip. Arm/no-arm options.
  • No need to store back/seat cushions when in bed form
  • As bed, part of each side overhangs the frame - can cause balance issues

The eventually-fatal problem with this design, at least for the wide 3-seater version we've owned (to give a long enough bed), seems to be that the cushion(also mattress) frame is not supported in the middle, and being wide enough for a 6'-er (183cm) to sleep on means there's just too much strain over too wide a gap for the thickness of aluminium its made with. All the ones we've seen in shops/on gumtree and ebay/other online in research, or owned, appear to use the exact same design of mechanism and mattress frame with either a bare frame or full sofa MDF frame around it. I don't think we missed finding any better ones (but do comment/write me if you know of any, for article completeness - spam will be ignored).

The cushion/mattress is a big compromise as its one part trying to be two things with different needs. It needs to be both flat enough and firm enough for a mattress but also soft enough each side to be the back and seat of the sofa - which also wants a fold down the middle to sit nicely on the frame. A fold there of course ruins the nice flat and supportive-everywhere mattress, especially if you want to sleep in the middle as a single or for an unevenly-sized couple. But no-split cushions don't want to lie nicely on the frame as a sofa.

It also suffers from balance issues - either for a single sleeper who strays too far to one side (beyond the centre of gravity of the legs and lying beyond the frame's sides) or if one partner is much heavier or likes sleeping near the edge; it can tip the sofa diagonally onto one side. Best you can do is wedge it up against a wall on one side, and/or pack under the overhangs (eg. using any spare arm cushions) to minimise that, but obviously thats a bodge solution and unreliable. Good enough value for money if you don't have much of a budget though, or it'll only be occasional use (in either form).

If you only need it short-term (couple of years or so in daily sofa use/occasional bed), this could be good value.

Lift-over seat and Fold-down back

Hmm I can't think of a better way to describe this one.. A video will do it better. Its a bit like this video shows (but not quite).

Hey, I just discovered while looking for a link for above, a Chaise version (or one of) that is yet another variation where the underside half of the sofa pulls out and comes up to lie alongside the existing sofa seat: see this animated diagram video, or in the real world this video [both youtube]
  • Simple, easy and fast to convert
  • Limited design/style/comfort options - only from Ikea (unless you know different? Do tell!)
  • Must be handy enough to assemble yourself (or arrange someone else to) - does mean it comes apart for transport too of course
  • Sofa cushions again performing double duty as bed "mattress" - though back of back-cushion
The only niché alternative design I've come across that I respect, and only available (AFAIK) from Ikea - the Friheten is a good example of this among a couple others they do, good value for money as is usual with Ikea. As long as you don't value your time putting it together too highly (instead of doing something else more useful), or can arrange someone else to for you :)

Extend and Fold

Here, part of the sofa under the cushions is on runners that slide out (not unfolding/rolling over)., like a drawer on runners. These ought to be less work to convert, but on every one I've tried in any stores the runners are a bit stiff, and because they're so low, awkward to get to - usually means kneeling down to get enough leverage at the right angle to pull them out. See this John Lewis Siesta sofa bed for an example of this type.

Once extended (equivalent of pulling out the drawer), it exposes another part of the mattress frame (which used to be underneath the seat cushions). The sofa seat cushions usually flip over to form the middle part of the mattress (I think) and the top part is whats left on the sofa seat area itself or the sofa back cushions fold down (as in the above Ikea Friheten option). That does mean more splits in the mattress but at least not every part of the "mattress" is trying to do two jobs, and if you're lucky you might even have a little bit of space in the sofa left for storage (don't expect that).

None of the styles we've seen for this type appealed to us, and the extending part limits the maximum length again so no 6' mattresses (that we found) so I haven't researched it more (hence no bullet points).

Ikea do at least one of these, also seen them elsewhere.
Here's a variation on that theme - still pulls out part of it at this youtube video

2-fold - Lift and Unfold (bog-standard)

If you're already looking at sofa beds I'm sure you know this type. Conversion to a bed involves pulling all (yes, all 4, 6 or more) cushions off and finding somewhere to store them overnight - which may be a bit heavy or awkward. Then you usually peel back a loose material protector sheet for the frame, grab the metal tube nearest the front end at the top, and lift upwards. It pivots up and towards you a bit, standing proud of the sofa frame. Next, take hold of the lifted-out frame's back top metal tube (ooh cold metal, lovely!), which consists of the bottom two thirds of the mattress folded in half, and lift and unfold it towards you. This unfolds the mattress fully as you go and turns that half of the frame upside down as it extends towards you out beyond the sofa frame. As you do this, the leg (U-shaped metal strut) that goes under this part starts folding down - careful not to get hit by this or to bring it down onto your feet as you unfold. Not the simplest way, but its become by far the most common style. The main points of this design are:
  • Most common design, hundreds of style choices and minor mechanism/padding variations
  • Price options from a few hundred to well over £1000 depending on style, quality, material
  • Separate mattress, hidden as a sofa (mechanism limits thickness & length)
  • Sofa seat cushion support becomes bed lower mattress support (inverted) - usually webbing (multiple quality options available between brands, from cheap'n'nasty plasticy stuff upwards)
  • Top half of mattress frame either metal struts/sprung wooden slats (better?), but mid-way strut usually designed (almost intentionally, it would seem) to dig into your hip bone through the thin-mattress types in bed form
  • High backs/arms mean head of bed cocoons you somewhat - hard to roll straight out of when getting up. Low/no-arm and back (eg. scatter back) options may be available as alternatives if you're ready to accept those - making that choice usually means a much reduced range in most shops though
  • Comfort - as a sofa, the full range from bad to pretty nice depending how much effort they put in/the price paid and what you're getting for that. As a bed - mostly, they leave a lot to be desired. Usually sitting on it will allow you to feel the frame underneath, and even lying on it and spreading your weight out you'll feel the middle strut of the mattress support (where the webbing part of it that also shares duty as sofa cushion support starts) against your body, probably digging into your hip bone.
  • Folding the mattress away without a mechanism that allows for it means it'll be compact against the frame when stowed, but when opened out as a bed (ie. when you care about it), there will be a gap at the end(s). So the mattress is at risk of sliding up and down, and hanging your feet over the end will run into the metal frame before you find the floor. In the worst case there's also a sizable gap (quite a few inches, probably a bit under 1', it varies) between the sides of the mattress frame and the arms of the sofa too that you might worry about falling down/losing your hands or arms into while sleeping if you move around much.
This type is really the "bog standard" of sofa bed mechanism that you all surely know if you've ever slept over somewhere with a sofabed, or maybe even own one yourself. Because there's so many of them, and its easy for manufacturer's to add a sofa bed to a range just by adding one of the standard mechanisms in, there are probably hundreds of choices here from a couple of hundred quid upwards (even beating the click-clack prices maybe). Even high end custom-sofa manufacturers like MultiYork use this type. Maybe they don't know any different or not enough people need them to be day-to-day sofabeds/have the specialist requirements that force people like us to do some seriously extensive research [and blog writing :) ]. The UK isn't exactly known for our sofa beds... Yet... [but keep reading/skip to the end].

Rollover

In our (and many others) view, the most superior mechanism of the heavyweights. An Italian design used by several manufacturers there (or minor variations on the mattress-surrounding frame and feet of and how cushions are attached to the frame).

The big idea is, you leave the cushions on (score +1 each for speed and convenience), which are attached to the frame (not permanently), use a fabric hook hidden away between the back cushions (or reach behind them) and just pull. It starts rolling towards you, off the sofa frame and continues; you'll need to change grip hand over hand to a strut on the frame once I think as the back cushions of the sofa come over the top and underneath the frame that rolls out, and thats it. Done. How simple and awesome is that?! Not clear enough? See this example video on youtube.

The whole back cushion and seat cushion frame ensemble is hinged and as you pull, it folds up and rolls over the seat cushions which roll forward and fold up on themselves and end up underneath and behind the legs holding up the extended end of the bed frame. Totally out of the way. You should see it in action to understand it properly - try this other video. Putting the bed away to a sofa again is the opposite action - lift up the far end of the sofa bed by its frame and just walk towards the sofa, lifting and rotating it back and it'll just fold up into a sofa again. It takes a little effort to lift but no more than the bog-standard unfold mechanism from above, you don't need to lift it far and you're only lifting to the lower hinge, not the whole mattress frame. I'd say less effort needed, and is again much faster and less pain, no stopping one action and finding and grabbing a different part to start on a different action.
  • More expensive than lift-and-unfold - generally only on £1000 upwards sofa beds.
  • Can allow for storage behind the seat cushions (depending on mattress size - less likely on extra long mattresses, not seen any on 200cm/6'6" mattresses yet actually)
  • No gap needed between mattress and frame when bed opens out, due to better design of the mechanism and upper/lower parts of the mattress frame shifting as they convert. Hence no risk of the mattress sliding around and you bumping your feet into the metal frame if you hang them off the edge - depending on how high the mattress/frame support is
  • Seems to allow for thicker mattresses? certainly only ones of the heavier mechanisms to allow for 195cm+ (6'4"+) mattress lengths
  • Fast, easy to convert!
  • No storage required for cushions
  • Stronger design than either click-clack or lift-and-unfold actions, generally means longer expected lifetime and longer warranties, and suitable for daily conversion and use as bed; and with good design (more likely as this style more expensive anyway and will appeal to those with higher demands and budget), also makes for a comfortable sofa you can't tell is a sofa-bed.

Our search

With all the click-clack's problems, and a failed sofa, we decided it was time to up the budget for ours' replacement and buy something to last, and something we could really enjoy sitting on, avoid sleep-over guests feeling 2nd-rate in our home without moving house (London's expensive).

Having tall friends/relatives (brother-in-law is 6'3", many of my friends are 6'-ish) really made the research quite lengthy but also narrowed it down pretty quickly once we'd found a match. Generally you don't want feet and head to be up against the edges of the mattress so for a 6'3" person to sleep, they probably want at least 6'6" mattress at minimum without banging their feet on the metal frame at each end; I figured 5cm/2" either end minimum to avoid the seam and allow a pillow-shoulder gap. For that, a 6'6" mattress might be a bit tight but its the largest mattress we've discovered without going properly custom and crazy-expensive.

We were further limited by the decision that a corner sofa wouldn't work in our lounge due to its shape and size - all the possible corners the extra bit of sofa would extend over, would block off important space (door, bay window space too valuable to cut into, or alcove) . There are quite a few corner sofa options that use the extra width of the corner piece to fill in the rest of the shape (from an 'L' shape to a full rectangle) and gain quite a nice sized bed. The Ikea corner-sofas/sofa+chaise-longue type are interesting examples (the plain Friheten comes in this style too for instance), or via Furnish House (from a quick google - though their Birmingham 'H&S Centre' looks like its someone's house in a residential area).


TLDR Summary of below: if you want a comfortable bed for tall people, comfortable sofa, great experience all the way through your selection process, and have a good budget, go to Furl or ask about other Italian-made brands sold in specialist stores. Based on our research I'd recommend you avoid Natuzzi unless you're a masochist needing a nasty experience (based on vast majority of all reviews anywhere I could find for them). If your budget doesn't quite stretch that far, and you're near enough Canterbury, go look at Lenley's ones of the same style (on sale as I write this too, April 2016). There's a much wider choice of corner sofas (including options at Furl) you'll have to find/do other research on.

The vast majority of shops only sell the basic bog-standard mechanism mentioned above that only copes with up to 180cm mattresses (5'11" at a stretch) and maybe 8cm thick if you're lucky (most are ~5cm). This is too thin for a comfortable night and the sleeper will be feeling the metal struts and frame underneath the mattress - often placed right under your hip. They also won't come to pieces for transport (all that metal in the mechanism and the extra mattress that normal sofa's don't have adds lots of weight to get into/out of your flat when moving, especially if not going to the ground floor - much harder than a regular sofa to shift). Think not just for initial delivery to you, but whether you'll be moving soon and have help to move it, or even just for cleaning underneath/behind or inside it every now and then, depending where it goes/how dusty it will get. This type will be either/both an uncomfortable sofa, and/or a not very comfortable bed (don't want to feel the metal struts in the frame with hip bones when trying to sleep, please!), and also more awkward to convert between sofa/bed (ugh.. taking all the cushions off and finding somewhere to put them overnight is the least of it).

So we did a lot of research as our needs seemed to stretch beyond the capabilities of most of the sofa beds we came across... That's why I'm writing this article because I thought it would help anyone else also looking for one as there are several smaller players in the market who deserve some more attention and whom you might wish you'd visited if you never looked far (and had a budget for).
Generally I discovered that bed shops won't have any sofa beds, it's the furniture and sofa specialists you want to look at. The company/shop name links below aim to get you right to their sofa bed section if they sell other items too. Here's the list of places we checked out and a brief summary, both high street/out-of-town shopping centre locations and non-high-street. Sorted roughly by preference, our top choices first (don't pay too much attention who's above who further down the list).

Furl - originally "The Storage Bed Company", from Nottingham (now in London too). Mattresses are 14cm thick reflex-foam or pocket-sprung (or cheaper plain springs), and 200cm long (6'6" - same size as Ikea mattresses so their 140x200 bedsheets fit the 140cm-double sofa bed). So they fit tall folk and that depth means you can't tell you're on a sofa bed, its as good as a regular bed to sleep on. The sofas are as comfortable as a nice sofa should be. One downside is that you can't take the covers off the cushions to clean them separately (though less relevant for eg. leather), or switch them round as there's a left/right cushion for the back and the seat. This is because the seats have extra padding/strength for the edges that rest on the mattress frame, so you don't feel it through the material. The cushions are attached to struts of the frame (not permanently - a fold of material forms a loop round the frame, zipped up, and a small velcro patch extra for the middle join of at least one set - on the Duette anyway). We discovered Furl via a mumsnet article (by Lily7050 in 2015) which also mentioned Willow & Hall. You can take them apart enough for transport without a tool (especially if you go for the removable arms which simply slide in, and either friction-lock or click in?), although there are two nuts for full break-down if needed. I think(?) different sofa beds in the range have different cushion fillings, ranging from pure foam to feather-wrapped foam which we've found to be pretty comfortable and a good mix of bounce (from the reflex foam core) and softness (from the feathers just under the covers) and with much less plumping needed compared to pure feathers (none if you get lazy). Their trials with pure feather didn't work so well as they weren't firm enough to stop you feeling the mattress frame underneath when set up as a sofa, and that was an absolute no-go (good to hear!) - same as any mattress too thin to protect you against the frame was avoided.

Their design aims to be usable as both your main bed and your main sofa, they specialise in only the best storage- and sofa-beds, with the sofa-beds using the rollover type mechanism from an Italian company (not Natuzzi) that allows 200cm mattresses in a variety of widths and several other unique or almost-unique options for the rest of the design elements. Some sofa beds have a headrest extra option (attaches separately). Their leather ranges are by Crest JMT (Cambridge and Old English in the showroom), and there are Warwick fabrics (we particularlowny liked Warwick Dolce Minerals which have a lovely velvety feel and sheen which varied in different lighting, for a level down in price from leather, also very durable). Providers were chosen to have a long availability for their materials, 15 years or more so replacement cushions or parts can be made the same if needed. But there is mention of ability to use or match a custom colour, for some furniture items anyway.

The website selection/costing process isn't quite bug-free on smaller screens (eg. tablets/phones) and I've forgotten twice how to go to the next step (#2) once I've chosen the basic sofa model/size to compare prices, but it works well enough to get a ballpark on what you might want. They only open their London showroom to visitors two days a week (Wed/Sat) and by appointment made on the website (you'll probably be browsing with other people there too from earlier appointments, you'll meet founder David who's very knowledgeable and happy to explain and provide general advice without pressure, over multiple visits as needed). This makes it a bit harder to organise than visiting any other places on this list, but David is always there for you and very helpful and genuine, honest and keen to make sure you make the right choice. The mattress mechanisms and mattresses come from the Italian company Lampolet, designing to their own patent.
While visiting we saw a prototype desk-bed combination being tested in the showroom - never come across that as a design idea before, and if you're in the market for some multi-functional well-designed high quality furniture with lots of customisable options (storage beds, sofa beds, coffee/dining-table all-in-ones, etc.) then I highly recommend a visit. I promise I'm not connected to them or being paid anything to write this, its just our opinion after spending way too much time researching the good, the bad and the ugly of the sofa bed world :)

Highly Sprung Sofas (yet to research; say they have a store on Tottenham Court Rd in London). They report 145x195cm mattresses via a Q&A on a YouTube promo video they posted so perhaps we should check them out more when we're in the area. Note, some pages link to kentsofas.co.uk and the website is missing proper content in several areas so doesn't look all that professional. Not explored further yet.

Lenleys (Canterbury, Kent) - 200cm mattresses on the Bianca model as rollover type, 190 on some others of same type, but no feather cushions listed as options anywhere, only 11cm thick mattresses. Their base level sofabed starts off cheaper than other Italian-rollover types, and I don't see a list of options anywhere near as flexible as say, furl.
If you'd like the rollover mechanism and tall mattress options, but don't have such a large budget and don't want feathers, then you can do that here - the online colour selection has quite a few more choices than many others in this list (though many of them only suck for that online, in store you get a proper choice - in truth thats where you should select the colour as your screen/their cameras might not render them correctly anyway, and you certainly can't tell the texture or quality too well from a picture).

Love Your Home - Felix, Emily, Frieda have the rollover type - they call "One Action Roll out Mechanism". Mattresses 145x195cm (double) or 160x195cm, the corner sofa beds they do go to 140x200 but thats outside our search parameters. Feather wrapped cushions (just as Furl). Prices for the rollovers start at £1400ish for the base  option and mostly look pretty modern rectangular shaped designs. Option of fixed or lose covers unlike most other rollover types here, pocket-sprung mattress for £97 extra. Seems like they'll try to match a special fabric request if you need. Claim only 5kg of lifting weight to close it up so can be closed simply with one hand - presuming this is around the same as for other rollover types here. The other sofa beds in their range seem like the plain bog standard type. 10 year guarantees, 6 week deliveries (free inside M25), designed and made by them. They point you at reviews on feefo (a new reviews site to me). No further research done for now.

Willow and Hall - Chiswick showroom. Looks like use the bog-standard mechanism (for all?), but nice thick 14cm mattresses and possibly slightly higher quality pocket-springs than Furls (missing technical details of Furl's ones as I write this)? Guessing not very long mattresses though (based on mechanism choice) - do correct me if wrong. Uses sprung wooden slats for the top part and webbing as the lower leg under-mattress support, might even be arranged better than the standard high-street version. Discovered via the same mumsnet article that linked to Furl, where it was said that their sofas were slightly comfier but the bed mechanism wasn't as solid as Furl's nor the beds as comfortable (both offer 14cm sprung mattress). They also have removable cushion covers. Claim 4-5 week delivery (a faster average than most here). Handmade in the UK (always nice to see that, if its good craftsmanship).

Dfs - material sofabed mattresses mostly too short for us, all (except 2 leather ones, Kalispera and Davenport) using the bog-standard mechanism, and seemed to have unusually large gaps on each side of the mattress between the mattress frame and the sofa arms. Of the 2 leather rollover types I mention, both of which have good thick and comfortable mattresses, one was maybe 180 long (I think? hard to remember) and the other, with rivets in the front of the arms giving it a very Western USA look, was ~190cm long mattress I think (maybe even 195) and in an "open" leather grain so not cold or shiny at all to the touch but did mean more effort to care for it. This was by far the best one we looked at for our needs there, they're pretty comfortable to sit on as sofas and comfortable enough sofa beds and every large-sized Dfs we've been to has these 2 in stock. The leather colour swatches have a fair range of choices, and if we hadn't found the Furl ones we'd quite possibly have been happy to quit looking after here. Lots of helpful staff obviously really keen for their commission who make sure you know their name and who keep coming back to check on you while giving you time to have a private chat about it (though mattress size had to be measured manually its not listed on the site/in their sales info as far as we could see). Not quite the same customer experience as some smaller independent specialist shops, but having never visited a Dfs before and only aware of the famously always-on-sale TV adverts, I was pleasantly surprised by our experience there!

Harveys Furniture - we looked, found some sofa beds with too-short mattresses in bog-standard mechanisms and maybe one leather Natuzzi built/designed one if I remember right.

John Lewis at Home - not as impressed as I expected to be by that big department store name.

House of Fraser - not visited yet. This website search result for their special custom-sofa site shows only 4 sofa beds (tell me if its missing any!), hence not considering them worth exploring.

Next Home - all mattresses pathetically thin and uncomfortable when tried in store, and they don't come apart for transport.

MultiYork - High end sofas built to last, 15yr frame warranties, feather cushions available, very much classic/traditional styles. Stores in England as far up as Harrogate, higher densities of them in the home counties; all furniture made in England.
The styles are so traditional that there's no rectangular arm-front option at all - the choice is scroll arms, or a curved variation of that, with various generally-narrower widths. If this is your style, and you're ok with the lower end mechanisms, but mostly want a really comfy and well-made sofa with a proven reputation that will last you decades if looked after, maybe this will suit you fine if you have a 4-digit budget. Nothing in a style that would suit us both and our flat though, hence crossed off the list. I personally have good long-term experience with their sofas (via family) - a 30 year old suite of them in a pet-owning household I know well is still going strong, having been re-covered and feather cushions switched for foam around 14 years ago (feathers lasted 15yrs before that just fine but were upsetting someone's allergies).

Seriously Sofas - from basic to Italian with feather cushions. They use the phrase "all the time use" for their rollover sofa beds - the Lario for instance, and many/most seem to have good thick mattresses. Detachable arms on the direct-from-Milan Italian items for full bed conversions/even less cocooning around the head end, and the "BedSofa" has a 17cm mattress and intended for proper daily mattress comfort without losing the sofa option. The Ash and the Zzziesta double sofa beds have 140 cm x 195 cm mattresses, they also have an interesting (but not for us) "Stresa" twin bed option with 200cm long and 14cm thick pocket-sprung mattress(es); multiple twin-bed sofa bed options in a sofa that opens in the middle to insert an included narrow table (or ottoman type thing) between. Then each half of the sofa opens up as a separate rollover type mechanism, with feathers for comfort. Not cheap at £3300 as I write, but I'm sure impressive and comfortable and suitable for visiting non-couples or kids I would imagine (if they're still young enough to be happy sleeping next to each other). There's a video at the site showing the conversion to bed.

Other options available (may not be on all sofabeds) include different arm widths (though no storage-arms like Furl has - they have storage in the seat backs instead like many other rollover styles do), higher seat backs, softer seat cushions, your own choice of fabric/leather, and optional headrest.

Three last notable items:
1) The Cento-60, a Swedish-sofa style (I guess that means no arms, and a partial back?) has a bed surface beating all the others here - if your visitor(s) might be nearer 7' (7 foot tall) or 84" total, and that sofa style works for you, this might just be one of the very few out there to cope; it has a bed surface of 150x219cm.
2) Their version of the sofa bunk bed, the "double decker" (only other place than Bon Bon I've seen this listed in the UK, Mocof Duo from China seems almost the same but with headboard/footboard) for £2995 or £3995 depending on the version.
3) Hocker, a single bed sofa-bed at 95x210cm bed size and of an extend-and-fold type mechanism. This video demonstrates it.

Furniture Village - have one Natuzzi rollover design if I recall correctly, and one or two other regular bog-standard lift-and-unfold design sofa beds.

Oak Furnitureland - this section online has four.

Bensons for Beds - as expected, not really a sofa bed seller. Search (linked to) returned 3 of them.

ScS (Sofa carpet Specialist) - link is to sofa bed category, or try this search on their site instead. Not a huge number, no long mattresses (typically 180cm, don't think they even do 190?), all relatively thin too, and none of them come apart for transport. All of which scribbled it off our list pretty quickly. A shame such a poor showing for our needs - some of the material sofas were comfortable enough to work for us at their kind of prices (didn't get to compare any leather ones as no leather sofa beds in stock at the store we visited).

Sofology - newer shop specialising in sofas. Allegedly Natuzzi designing a new one for them in Italy around/for Easter 2016 which should mean the better rollover type, no further details (and Natuzzi reviews now make us doubt how interested we'd be, unless this is back to the old Italian made quality). Some of them do come apart for transport (if I remember right), modern/classic designs

Bon Bon (in Chelsea Wharf, London) - sell some of the Natuzzi sofabeds and also multifunctional tables; tiny little "showroom" packed out - also saw a sofa bunk-bed while there (who knew such a thing existed!). Like Furl, had to make an appointment to see them (in fact, not all that far away from Furl but a world away in customer experience), and they have their own stuff too it seems but are all set on selling you their own version which doesn't seem to be as good and allegedly the customer service/sales experience doesn't match up to the money you're paying. They had to move other bits of furniture in the showroom around in order to open up some of the sofa beds they had (or the table to see that folding out in action), or for the sofabed they didn't, it was very tightly packed when open. Good choice of fabrics and leather colours in the showroom - Yarwood leathers (we looked at the Mustang range) and a good choice of fabrics. I think they quoted one of the longer lead times compared to anywhere else in this list though. Worth visiting to get an idea of what to compare things to and it first introduced us to the rollover mechanism, but we won't be rushing back to see them. At least one sofabed was comfortable enough and at about the right height seats for us as a sofa.

Natuzzi (manufacturer, available in various shops eg. World of Leather) - see comments later.. No shops of their own except for one in Tottenham Court Road if I remember rightly, but they list several other shops selling their furniture around London (maybe elsewhere in the country too - I know of at least one other in Essex).

Habitat - always personally considered them overpriced since the 80s, when they used to sell attractive and nicely styled stuff at reasonable prices. Then there was a major price hike (and many more since, I'm guessing) but the goods didn't get any better, and I think its only gone further into "we saw you coming" territory for the folk who think its cool to shop there. We still checked out the website again in case - appears (to us) as same-old same-old as other cheaper sofa shops but for a few hundred pounds more with no noticable extra worth paying for. Really, what happened to Habitat? I remember wondering round their London Regent St. shop a couple years ago during a clearance sale - the place looked messy upstairs, like not a great place to be as a shopper; I spotted an LED colour-changing glowing tiny sphere for £8, then a basic painted (maybe mirrored too, I forget) wardrobe with kinda trendy and nice design (but not by anyone famous) for well over £2000 on clearance.. Wtf!

Ikea - as mentioned above, their unique designs are intriguing and fit the bill bed-size wise. I so wanted to be happy and comfortable sitting on the Friheten as a sofa for its oh-so-cheap £375 cost for the non-chaise version (most online talk/video seems only to mention the chaise one which makes an even longer bed, but wouldn't fit in our lounge). The style is modern and clean lines and would work in our room. But I wasn't comfortable - it was just too firm, and as a mattress I'd also want to provide a mattress  topper/pad or it'd be a bit like sleeping on a raised section of carpeted floor. Ultimately we were just looking for better comfort than it could provide, without needing extra layers (which obviously makes the seat higher - it was ok as it was, more would be too high). The other Ikea variation on that type was "shlumpy", so the wife said (design/colour option-wise)...

Dunelm - not generally all that fond of their beds or customer shopping experience. But we looked anyway. The store layout and impression from our visits leaves one feeling a bit cheap sometimes, some parts feel a bit like an upgraded corner shop stacked high with cheaper no-brand goods I wouldn't risk buying alongside a few interesting and well-known products. We looked but didn't really see much of a sofa bed range. A more recent web search shows that yes, they have only two of them. Never saw any to look at in the two stores we explored either, a solid bet though that they're the bog-standard pull-out-and-fold ("2-fold") mechanism type we don't care for. Gave up..

Hatfield Furnishings (a local specialist furniture store while visiting relatives - just picked 'cos we visited and as a representative of most furniture specialists that still don't consider making a good sofabed).
Not a sofabed specialist - though they also have folding beds (you remember ZipBeds?). You'll find they use the standard pull-out and unfold mechanism we've come to recognise all too quickly and almost know offhand won't provide a comfortable or long enough mattress for our wants.

LondonBedCompany.com - haven't checked much more into this, except that I don't think they can beat our attraction to Furl's products (though they might use decent mechanisms.. honestly, I've forgotten already, so much research..)

Momento Italia (made in Italy then shipped overseas - has YouTube videos, otherwise no way to try, awkward and limited website).

Shopping Notes

Although the websites here ought to be a bit useful, I'd never recommend buying something as personal as a sofa you'll be sitting on for years to come online only. Do go visit a store and sit on the model you're interested in (or one as much like it as possible), ideally in the same material - and ask about longevity, what parts are covered by what level of warranty, stain resistance and whether they offer stainguard type protection etc.. Take a swatch of the colours you like home if you can and compare/imagine a whole sofa of it in its destination room, with the lights on and off and at day/nighttime (that'll change how the colour looks). Do some research into other customer feedback online and (even better if you can) their other customers/friends who bought from them. Remember surreptitious companies can pay people to write fake reviews for them on some sites so read both the good and the bad ones and see if any issues consistently pop up, or if the bad ones are just a customer being stupid or unfair, and whether the good ones seem genuine with enough specifics of the order and all parts of the customer experience. Refund options are limited if a company custom makes an item to your order (and a bad company might be hell to get one from even if you're legally entitled to one for shoddy workmanship etc., especially if they're not a UK company), so be sure before you get out the credit card (or finance agreement or whatever). It can be a lot of moolah to risk on a bad purchase, and a lot of time to be without somewhere to sit if they have to take it away to fix it!

Most companies here also quote from upto 4, to upto 12 weeks for making and delivering your order, and I'm guessing a few orders end up even longer than that due to miscellaneous delays or mistakes or even occasional incompetency. Order in time!

Final Decision

Furl is currently our favourite by a fair margin. As long as your budget is comfortably into 4-digit territory (which it should be if you want luxurious comfort and good design that will last more than a few years). They have mattresses for tall people, well made mechanisms and you can select options that make them even easier to take apart for easy portability, castors that can be raised/lowered for moving around (eg. to clean under without damaging the feet/fabric as you push it around), a slightly taller back-cushion option (I like back support and I'm 6'), and a clever storage idea in the arms if you choose the frames its available on. The heavy mechanisms and mattress otherwise make sofa beds much harder to move or get up/down stairs than other sofas. My wife will attest to that and I've also had to shift a click-clack up a narrow flight of stairs and round a couple of corners with only a smaller lady friend to help.

So why the submarine-movie-inspired title? Well we need the sofa ideally before September for visiting family, and the initial colour choice was going to be a burgundy-red, perhaps moving into purple (trying to avoid it looking mahogany in low light though - the Mrs. doesn't like that). I enjoy movies lots...

Note - this article may see future updates until we've made an order (and then even further reviews after use of the chosen company's product)

Good luck with your sofa bed hunt!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Tech Wedding Lessons

I got married in February 2012 (this post was originally written 6 Feb 2012 but only just published in Jan 2016), and it was an international wedding. Being a software developer computer geek, I wanted to try and involve some technology along the way and thought that judicious use of some apps/software, whether homegrown or 3rd-party, would make some things easier.
But first, what else did I learn about organising a wedding? The sort of things you'd learn from doing any large event really, but these stood out for me (not in order though):
  1. I knew this already, but to any event you'll ALWAYS (95% of times) have people who say yes and for whatever (good or poor) reason, can't make it on the day. You can't control them, but if you don't value their reason it will affect your view of them/willingness to invite them to the next event. Hopefully it won't be the bride or groom!
  2. You'll also sometimes get people who reply without identifying themselves, or without completing the reply properly. We didn't write on our generic invitations, only address them manually. So each invitation and reply card looked like the next one - much simpler unless you can automate it (and also for those last minute people you remember about or suddenly have to invite). We decided to call the last-minute additions to the guest list 'Mystery Guests' and numbered them, and let them figure out which of them was which when they got there - we didn't have time to do the full guest set up for them by name; but if I redid it I'd try and get more time to pre-number/name each invitation by the id we already had for them in our database (actually two places: a spreadsheet and a mysql database), or write a name/household on it already.
  3. I bought a domain and developed a site for info/rsvp online; but this ended up taking up too much of my time really, to get all the functionality I wanted. Ok, so I started off with an overly complicated plan, and was really keen to do something amazing but in the end it just had to cover the basics. Not a huge number of people saw it, I password protected it to avoid every man and his dog knowing when we were going to be away from the house for a while.

Linux default/non-default web browser link opening

Anyone annoyed in running non-default browser; click link elsewhere, starts default app w/ lots restored tabs (slow), new window etc.

'course, instead I could keep browsers slim, close down tabs lots more often or start a new session afresh each time.  Not happening.

So back in May 2015, I wrote a script to be my new default www browser. When I click on links now in any app (that opens them in the system default browser), it runs this script instead which looks for the most-preferred web browser currently running and opens the link in that. Solved!

I also shared this code on my github, and while it has a bug or two still, it does its job the majority of the time (for me at least). I'd be happy if you or anyone else took a look and tried it out, reported bugs, suggested/offered improvements etc. There is a little bit of file editing to install it at present (indicating its fairly immature status), but once installed you just have to select it as the default browser in your settings, and can easily switch back to your previous one if you haven't done anything non-standard beforehand. There's a configuration file for it to tell it how to order your browsers and even (probably a bit buggy) ways to always use a certain browser for certain sites.

I could do with a gui to configure it so non-sysadmins can use it easily.

Lens Renting

I bought a new DSLR (back in late 2008), so I finally have a decent digital camera. I had a digital compact for a few years back around 2001, but it was of the old style - annoying delay between button-pushing and shutter-firing, only 2Mb or so, and being a compact I had almost no real control over the exposure or focus (and what exposure control there was via +/- half-stops took about 5 seconds to change each time through a submenu). But I loved my Canon EOS 300 (film SLR) and for any kind of real photography, thats what I always took with me along with whatever lenses/flash/tripod I felt worth carrying. I have a fair range of Canon EF lenses. But it got stolen in 2007 and for quite a while I was without a nice camera - although the newer smartphone Nokia's have ok (for a phone) cameras and I was ok using them for snapshots. But I lusted after a nice camera again that would give me real power over my pictures. I more recently obtained an old film SLR again through a friend who had a 300 and a 600 and decided he didn't need two EOSs (so I have a 600). I wanted to get a nice digital one and I was waiting to save up and for one that fit my wants - the newer in-built sensor cleaning sounded a great idea, I wanted a few things my 300 had lacked (2nd-curtain/higher-speed flash sync, for one).
I also wanted to go see some family in Canada last year, which I finally planned for October and that was the impetus to really decide which camera I wanted so I had the advantage of digital while out there and a new toy to play with too, something to really satiate my built-up desire to take good photos again with a great, usable tool. One I could predict the results of given certain settings and light levels.
So, I chose my EOS - and compatibility with existing lenses and accessories (down to the wired remote), and then wondered if I had suitable lenses for the trip. I have a 75-300 that doesn't get a huge amount of use, good for wildlife at a distance, but its slow (f3.5/4.0, I forget) and not particularly fast to focus unless there's lots of light - it hunts around a bit even though it's USM (ultrasonic motor) is quick when it knows where to go. So I rather wished I had a faster long lens, similar focal length(s), although anything of the sort was going to cost me somewhere near a thousand quid new. Even second hand they don't lose a lot of value, so I considered renting or selling it again after. My credit card could stomach it (despite the new camera+flight tickets), but with an uncertain return on the lens, I didn't quite feel happy.
I looked into renting. It would be hard to collect it outside of the area I was flying to, and I only considered I needed it for one weekend so a rental for the full trip length would be outside of the budget (therefore not a valid option to pick it up before I flew/drop back on return). To widen the choice I looked into companies that would do postal renting. You'd be surprised how many companies won't let you take it outside the country, or won't ship to Canada. Just about everyone in the US I tried wouldn't do it, despite finding a lot of companies advertising rentals.
In the end, I found two companies in Canada that would ship it to me and that I could send it back after the weekend. Speaking to them on the phone, one sounded great but they only had one worthwhile lens not booked out for the required dates, and that was in repair and the logistics just weren't workable. So I went with the other, lensrentals.ca, who would provide it in a Pelican toughened case (they'd never had any problems in shipping with it), courier-shipped, to the door where I was staying, and prepaid postage back afterwards.
So I hired a 75-300 f2.8 IS L lens for the weekend. It arrived on time, in good-as-new condition, with the lens hood and manual and tripod-mount ring. It was heavier than I'd even expected for, but took some really nice pictures and I felt like a serious photographer wielding it around.