Friday, 15 July 2016

Frugal Friday

Remember that frugal thing? Well we're still doing it. It's like I said a while back though - the more it becomes a way of life, the more it becomes difficult to think of things to say about it. It's just what we do. We have relaxed a wee bit on things as time has moved on - although we've always been inclined to "go out and do stuff" even within the constraints of paying off every penny we can against the mortgage - there has always been that quality of life balance, as we recognised from the start that while if you're in debt (by which I mean mortgage, credit cards, overdrafts or loans) then cutting back everything you can is a great way of dealing with it, there's also the risk you end up burning out and saying "sod it" too.

I dipped in to Cass's "Frugal Family" blog recently though, and her "50 ways you can save" post gave me an idea, so here I am, first time in a while for one of these on a Friday...

My "50 ways" are split into sections - centered around things we've done, and how we worked to make our money work as well as we could for those things. Even if you're not scratching around for every penny, we all work hard for our money so it's only right that we should make the most of it.

10 tips for Travel:
We live just a few miles from Stansted airport, so the temptation to whizz off for a long weekend is very much there. Our next trip is a couple of days in Dublin, and was actually a fairly last minute decision, not the best basis on which to keep costs down, but we still did our best!
- Book flights as early as you can, particularly with budget airlines
- Be flexible - our original plan was to hire a car for two days, however we were going to get no change from £65 for this. Instead we've bought travelpasses which should cover us for ALL our travel while we're there and have cost us E10 (no Euro symbol on this keyboard!) each. Bargain!
- Likewise, parking at Stansted was going to be pricey due to the short-notice - but we can park at our local station for the weekend for £5, and the train will cost us about £14 return.
- A hotel a short distance out can save you cash! If you're happy to spend 30 minutes on a bus, train or tram, you can be quids in, particularly in popular destinations
- for foreign trips, plan your spending. We've got one of Martin Lewis' ideal Credit Cards for overseas spending, so we'll be spending as much of what we need to as possible on that, and of course as ever it will be cleared off as soon as we get the bill. (It'll also earn us a little bit of cashback)
- Remember you'll need cash too - and work out how best to get it. Some credit/Debit cards allow you to withdraw free of charge, others make a charge, in which case you may be best to get your holiday money in advance. We'll also be raiding our roadkill pig to round up all the Euros that we've found in the street.
- online research is a lot cheaper than buying guidebooks for where you're going, and you often find snippets that the books miss, too.
- Similarly for general sightseeing info, older guidebooks bought from charity shops are still fine, just don't expect admission charges to places to be the same!
- If the place you're visiting has a great market then make use of it for food for an outdoor or hotel room picnic - it usually works out FAR cheaper than going out for a meal, and can taste every bit as good, or better!
- Pack light to save on baggage charges - I can do a weekend on hand luggage even when I need a full bag of camera gear by packing cleverly into the gaps around my kit, and stashing stuff into pockets. Remember also you can usually carry on an "airport shopping" bag - so a bottle of water bought airside means you can then load other stuff into that same bag.

10 tips to save at home:
- Monitor your electricity & gas use regularly - then if you see a sudden sharp spike you can work out what's caused it before it runs up a big bill
- set reminders on your phone to check you're on the best deal for utilities once a year or so
- Shop around for insurance renewals well in advance of the policies expiring - this reduces the temptation to just let them auto-renew.
- Hoovering regularly maintains carpets in good condition for longer, likewise, clean up spills as soon as they happen!
- Girls, when hair-washing, shampoo twice using just a 10p sized blob at most each time - first time concentrate on the roots, second time, the lengths. The first wash won't lather much, but that's fine, it's still cleaning! (Thanks to my lovely hairdresser friend Kate for this one!)
- putting your shampoo in a dispenser bottle not only looks nicer in your bathroom, but also means you're not so tempted to use too much
- When you think that toothpaste tube is empty, lay it on a flat surface and run your finger up from bottom to top to push up all the paste that's left in the tube
- Don't leave electrical items on standby unless you have to - things like your Sky Box will be a nuisance if you keep turning them off and on again, but TV's, radios and stereos can mostly go off at the switch to get rid of those power-sapping little red lights!
- If you're going away for more than a couple of days, think about what you can do to minimise power drain - the less electrical items left switched on, the safer your home in your absence, too!
- If you have an Economy7 meter, set timers to run things like your dishwasher, washing machine etc overnight (so long as it won't be antisocial to your neighbours to do so!), and use the thermostat on your hot water cylinder to heat that on the cheap rate, too

10 tips for shopping:
- The money mantra - Do I need it, will I use it, can I get it cheaper? - before you buy
- If you decide to buy it, can you go through a cashback site to earn a little something back?
- Look on the High Street, but if they won't price-match to online, don't hesitate to walk away, on big ticket items in particular
- For new electrical appliances, remember to check their energy usage - our new shower costs far less to run than the old one, which has covered the cost of running the new extractor and the heated towel rail
- Cashback credit cards - while they're not as lucrative as they were a couple of years ago, they ARE still out there. Just use them for purchases you'd make anyway, and pay off in full at the end of each month
- one for the photographers - there are a LOT of sites out there selling really good quality, well looked after second hand gear, the likes of MPB Photographic and CameraWorld also offer part-ex deals on the items you're replacing!
- Another one for the photographers - if you're set on buying new for a particular item, there is a cracking dedicated comparison site so you can see where the best UK deals can be had - check out
- A lot of us having things we buy regularly, from habit - but it's those costs that can mount up. A £2.30 latte every working day on your way to the office? That's a cool £500 over a year - now think what you could do with that amount of money.
- For food shopping, write a list, not only does it mean you don't forget things, it also means you get round the store faster as you don't have to keep backtracking!
- Apps/websites like MySupermarket are great if you have the option to shop at several different supermarkets - work out where is cheapest for which items and plan accordingly!

In the kitchen:
- batch cook and never use the oven for just one item!
- If your oven is electric, and your microwave has a combi/convection setting, it'll almost certainly be cheaper to use the micro than heating the main oven.
- Stock-take your fridge regularly to avoid waste
- Remember - slightly over-ripe fruit and some yogurt = a delicious (and expensive to buy) smoothie! Sometimes leftovers can be a delicious treat!
- If you're making a curry, bolognese, stew or chilli, always consider padding it out to make an additional portion or two which can be frozen as a "home made" ready meal.
- a packet of gnocchi in the larder, butter in the fridge and some fresh herbs in pots outside, can help avoid the temptation of a trip to the takeaway because you've got "nothing in for dinner!"
- plan your meals to use up anything you have left over from the previous week
- PLAN YOUR MEALS!! (Seriously, even a rough plan of meals you enjoy and some basic ingredients always to hand can make all the difference)
- keep the kitchen tidy and stay on top of washing up - if it's a nice environment, and you don't have to "clear the decks" before you can do anything, you'll be far more inclined to cook in it - that equals less impromptu takeaways!
- If you can afford it, and enjoy it, plan in a takeaway every so often - this journey is NOT about depriving yourself of everything fun. BUT, give thought to what takeaways you really love, and what you could create at home for just-as-good results - for us it's fish & chips, chip-shop ones are incomparable!

10 tips to boost your savings:
- If you see money on the floor, pick it up. There's no shame in it and it's NOT beneath you. If someone else doesn't want it, you may as well have it!
- When you log in to check your online banking, take any odd pennies from the balance of your current account(s) and transfer them to a dedicated savings account - not enough each time to notice, but it does mount up! At the end of a year use the money for something lovely.
- Each time you manage to make a saving on a utility bill, so your monthly Direct Debit amount drops, set a bank-transfer to send the saving into a savings account. As you make further savings, increase the amount of the transfer accordingly. We currently have £96 a month going to savings just from having done this for a few years!
- Work out a monthly budget and stick to it - if you should have money left over at the end of the month, but you don't, keep a spending diary to work out why!
- Budget to save if you possibly can - if you should have money spare at the end of the month then budget to move it straight to savings before you're tempted to spend it!
- Check what savings accounts your bank offers for day to day savings, but be prepared to look further afield for larger amounts. In any event it makes sense to get the best interest you can. Nationwide currently offers a regular saver account which pays 5% for its first 12 months
- If you use an ISA, keep your eye on its interest rate - rates have dropped across the board since the Personal Savings Allowance was brought in but there are still deals to be had.
- If your current account pays interest, learn when it arrives and as soon as it has, transfer it to savings.
- Pigs rule, OK! Piggy Banks are the coolest thing - so drag that small change out of your purse, wallet or pocket, and go feed a pig!
- If you use TopCashBack or Quidco, and get your cashback paid by BACS, transfer it straight to savings as soon as it hits your account so you see a benefit from your savvy shopping, ratyher than it just getting frittered away!

All of the above are tried and tested by us - I'm not a fan of putting stuff in here that we can't be pretty sure works. Yes there's merits in looking at changing bank, and getting a cash incentive to do so, but we've been with our current account provider for, well, forever, actually, in my case, and we love their customer service and that they are a building society, not a bank. They do accounts that suits us. We have a branch in town where we can see someone if we need to. So we won't be changing, no matter how much cash someone wants to give us. Yes we could get TV, Phone & Broadband cheaper than Sky, but they give us the service we want, for a price we can afford (with regular haggling!) so I won't be urging you to change there, either. A lot of this money saving lark is about finding what works for you, and not being over-influenced by other people's accounts of living on dry bread and water, wearing all your clothes rather than heating the house, and having a cold shower just once a week to save on heating the water. Between you and me, most of them probably aren't practising what they preach, anyway! ;-)


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Who cares...? (And who cares if they don't)

I posted a while ago that I was struggling with what to put here these days. With the time to put anything at all. and although I've posted a few times since, that remains unchanged - I've still been wrangling in my head with the same old "nobody's interested" thoughts - which is why THIS POST from Jen over at My Make and Mend Life really struck a chord with me yesterday. Her phrase about comparing other people's beautiful outsides with her own scrunched up insides especially - that makes SO much sense!

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that, online, what you see of a person is what they present to you, what they want you to see. That person who's so upbeat, so cheerful, so damned GOOD at everything they turn their hands to - in real life might possibly be full of gloom and not achieving half what they sound as though they are - it's just that the bits they show you make it all look shiny. Remember "Friends Reunited"? Remember how utterly implausible it was that everyone you'd been at school with had ALL landed these high-powered impressive sounding jobs, and how it made you feel ever so slightly like perhaps YOU should have done that, too? Well here's the thing - I bet you anything you like the majority either didn't have the job they were leading you to believe that they did, (case in point, the lass who I was at school with who I knew full well was working on a florist's stall at the station - suffice to say that was NOT what her FR profile claimed she was doing!). It's not all about people trying to "big themselves up" though - sometimes it's the way we read what people have written, the way we interpret it. Sometimes it's the very fact that we compare ourselves to others, and to how they're making their lives sound, without sparing a thought for whether that life would make US happy, or whether it would be a form of torture for us.

Blogging is a funny old thing, and I realised recently that the thing I've lost sight of comes back directly to the way I am about things in real life. I said to a friend recently that my default setting is to always assume that people won't want to hear from me. I'm rubbish at suggesting phone calls with pals, for this very reason - there's a bit of me that always thinks "they'll make an excuse, they won't want to chat with me, they'll have more interesting folk to speak/spend time with" - it always surprises me when someone suggests a phone call for a natter, in fact, it AMAZES me. If I don't phone you, it's not that I don't want to speak to you, it's that I assume that YOU won't want to speak with ME!  I hesitate to tell people when I consider them a good, or close friend, because I'm always wary of the fact that they'll be embarrassed because they don't feel the same - that to them I'm nothing more than an acquaintance. I'm reluctant, a lot of the time, to suggest to friends that we go places, or do things, for the same reason - I assume that while they might well want to go to those places, or do those things, they won't want to do it with me, and will then feel awkward about refusing.

I have a friend - yes, I'll go as far as to say a good friend - whose "default setting" when stressed, or busy, or unhappy about something, is to shut themselves away from the wider world. I know they will be keeping in contact with the people who are absolutely central to their everyday life - partner and parents - but beyond that, radio silence. I've spent years feeling each time this happens that it's their subtle way of telling me that they don't want to be in touch any more, but they're uncomfortable with actually telling me that, and only recently have I realised that actually, it's just their coping mechanism when things are tough, and that the best thing for me to do is to be there - to drop a text every now and again, a tag on social media with something of interest to them - just little things to let them know that I'm still here, still on their side. And as and when things settle down for them, we'll be back to normal. I don't like it, but it's part of that person, part of the way they are, and while when they're quiet I miss them like mad, ultimately, it's not a reflection on me, it's just the way things are.

Confidence can be such an issue for so many people - and we should all remember that the person we see who appears to be absolutely super-confident may actually be anything but. I started blogging in the first place not because I thought anyone would want to read, or to look at the pictures I posted, but for me, as a record of things we'd done, places we'd been, small triumphs, that sort of thing, and I'd really like to get back to doing it for that reason. I actually like looking back on my blog posts, I can get lost for ages in stuff I've written before, and so often that reminds me of things I used to enjoy but I've lost sight of. So I guess the bottom line is who cares if anyone else wants to read my ramblings. If I can look back on them in a few years and think "Oh yes!" then that's as good a reason for carrying on, as any.


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

It's started!

Yep, we're flat out into the Airshow season now and once again I've been out and about round the shows watching those whizzy Little Red Jets doing their thing. No big plans this year (2014 was simply to see as many Reds displays as possible in the course of the year, last year was to see them in England, N. Ireland, Scotland & Wales all in the space of the one season) aside from just to get out and about with the gang as much as we can and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Somewhere along the line there does seem to be a plan to see the boys outside of the UK for the first time (Republic of Ireland, since you asked) and I'm toying with another "display on an Island" too - but that's a work in progress at the moment. ;-)

So far I've done Shuttleworth (sunny, glorious)...

...before our Hebrides holiday interrupted proceedings. Once back it was onto the first Torbay Airshow held in Paignton in June - the weather was mixed but it was a fantastic weekend and the organisers should be rightly proud of themselves. None of the rest of the gang could make it down that far but I had a hilarious weekend with the Reds PR team, regardless. The weekend afterwards saw me make a solo trip down to Folkestone - but a wasted trip also as the weather intervened, the boys were weatherbound at their operating base and unable to get to us. The next day - back with Claire, Tom & Ant and back to Weston-Super-Mare for a day - this one's become a firm favourite of ours over the past few years so this year we decided to try a different viewpoint...

...not the best of days weather-wise again - but that view down on the display made up for that. The following day was Cosford, which once again came with grey skies and rain showers - I'm sure one year we'll get lovely weather for this one but it wasn't to be this year. It's still good though as we get to meet up with some more far-flung members of the gang including Colin, Layna and their gorgeous lad Logan, as well as lovely Aunty Di - it's the social side of the airshows that's as much fun as the flying, in fairness!

The weekend after was the National Armed Forced Day event in Cleethorpes - so Claire, Tom and I piled into Claire's long-suffering Corsa and headed off there - and a thoroughly enjoyable event it was. Although not an "airshow" as such we still got the Reds, Chinook, BBMF and lots of parachutes, and some decent weather to see them all by, also, so we were happy enough with that!

Most recently of all last weekend I joined Anthony for a day at the Yeovilton Air Day - this was one we went to last year but due to a variety of reasons I really didn't enjoy much, but in fairness to it I was well aware it was me, rather than the event itself, hence when Ant asked I said yes to doing it again. I was glad I had too as it felt totally different this year - we arrived earlier and so were able to get a spot at the front (a big deal when, like me, you're 5'1"!) and had a lovely day with THE most fabulously dramatic skies at times...

Next up is Airtattoo at Fairford - three days of wall to wall flying action and more importantly for me, the Reds jets on the ground too so I will be concentrating on my groundshots of the engineers a lot of the time. Look out for the #CircusAtWork hashtag on Twitter (@EssexHebridean) & Instagram (@Robyn_PF) to see those. Looking forward to catching up with a few old friends and getting to know some of the new guys also. We've got the debut of the new F35B fighter there too which will be good - it'll be doing some flypasts with the Reds too which will be good to see.


Thursday, 30 June 2016

British "blitz" Spirit? Not much!

So - we've had a week to get used to things, accept our lot, and start looking to the future. In fairness a lot of folk are doing just that, but there is still, and has been throughout, an extraordinary amount of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from both sides. Now I'll stress from the start, this is NOT a political post - I've never done politics on Social Media and I have no intention of starting now.  What it is though, is a comment on some of the frustrating, upsetting and just plain inaccurate things I've heard and seen over the past week.

The most alarming thing, possibly, is the people who are saying "But we were misinformed, we were fed lies" - you know what, and I hate to break it to you, but in ANY campaign of this type, both sides of the argument will twist the truth, embroider the facts, and tell you what they think you want to hear. Of course the "£350million per week to the NHS" claim on the Leave side is well documented now - but it wasn't just them who were - let's be charitable here - stretching the truth. One of the more dangerous lies I saw was on an extremely official looking leaflet from the Remain camp - so official looking in fact that at first, I thought it was the "impartial advice" that was being sent out. On the reverse of the leaflet it said (not exact wording) "If you're unsure which way to vote, then the safe option is to vote Remain as another vote can be held in the future". I do find myself wondering how many people took that "advice" to heart in spite of the fact that it is categorically false? The bottom line is that all the information was out there and easily accessible. (For the purposes of this I'm assuming that you are computer-literate and have access to the internet). I found enough information out there from various sources to make an informed decision - so what was your excuse for not doing so? If you expect all the information on something this important to be spoon-fed to you then I think the bigger question is actually whether you're responsible enough to be given a vote in the first place!

Next up - "Oh but it's alright - this referendum isn't legally binding" - well if you'd bothered to do any sort of research at all, or even taken the trouble to ascertain what you were being asked to vote in, you'd know that referenda are essentially an advisory instrument - designed to gauge the feelings of the country's voters on a particular issue. Had you done that research, you might also have understood why that lie I've mentioned from the Remain campaign above is so critical - in a referendum, if you are unsure which way to vote, you'd be very well advised to NOT VOTE AT ALL. Too many people failed to understand that a) this was a seriously important question and b) yes - regardless of the result it is possible that a further vote will be held on the subject in the future - but that "future" is likely to be a VERY long way away - decades not years. For a lot of us voting this time round, the "further vote in the future" is simply not likely to be in OUR future.

That brings us on nicely to those who didn't vote at all. If you couldn't make up your mind, and so were unable to put an informed X in a box, and you chose not to vote as a result - well done you. Please don't be browbeaten by those telling you that you should be ashamed, or that wonderful old chestnut "people died to so you have the right to vote" - the right to vote has a flipside, and that is the right to make an informed decision on NOT voting, also. That is democracy - that you have a choice. However, if you were one of those who couldn't be bothered to unwedge your backside from the sofa to go to the polling office - then stop your complaining right now - you have no right of reply on this issue. "I only remembered I needed to vote after the polling stations had closed" No - you're lying, Just shut up and stop digging. Likewise those who have said "I voted X but didn't realise it was so important and now wish I'd voted the other way" - really? The country has been talking about this question for YEARS, but the importance bypassed you? Again, we're back to the question of whether you are responsible enough to be given a vote, and possibly, in this case, whether you should ever be allowed to breed, also. (This also applies to those who voted based on factors other than whether they wanted the UK to stay in, or leave, the EU. A referendum is not a time for a protest vote, or a vote against a government, or a vote for the sake of it because you "had to vote for something" - again, had you researched, you would have understood that.)

A few other classics - "The turnout was too low for it to count" - the turnout was 72.2%. For reference, that was the highest turnout at the polling stations for a UK-wide vote since 1992. Do you want all the General Elections since then re-run as well? Shall we start with 1997? No, thought not. As a point of interest, less than 36% of voters in the UK turned out last time there were European Parliamentary Elections - and from 1979 - 2014 the highest turnout EVER was 38.52%, if that doesn't underline the apathy that the UK felt towards the EU, I don't know what does. If we accept that you do have a valid point on the question of turnout, the turnout in the 1975 EC (Common Market) referendum was even lower than this time round...SURE you still want to use that argument?
"There should be a 2nd referendum held" - why? The country was given the opportunity to a) Do our research b) make an informed decision and c) Get to a polling station and vote - on what basis should the vote be re-held? Because you couldn't be bothered? You do realise that this wasn't a playground game of "Rock/Paper/Scissors" - that when you lose, you can badger your mate to go "best of three"?
"All Leave voters are racists who only voted because they want to stop immigration" Nope. And if you're trying to soften it by saying "the majority of..." then nope again. Just 33% of Leave voters polled stated that "regaining control over immigration" was their primary reason. And you'll note - "control over" rather than "preventing".
"Leave voters didn't think it through" - well no again according to the polls - once you take out those who have "always known how they were going to vote" (39% of Remain voters and 36% of Leave voters - in other words those for whom no argument was going to sway their view) - the numbers suggest that actually, it was the remain voters who were more inclined to have made their minds up closer to the time - with 43% making their decision within a month of the vote. (41% for Leave voters)

I've heard so many people saying "I'm really angry" - and I can understand that anger, but NOT that it is being turned internally, turned against the country and its people. Fear too - frankly anyone who's jumping up and down with glee now and saying everything is going to be wonderful should be locked in a room with Nigel Farage and several very hungry Pit Bulls IMO. It's right to be wary of what's ahead - in fact it's helpful, a degree of fear helps to make sure people inform their choices  - maybe the vote would have been different if there had been less complacency on the Remain side - let's face it, the majority of us assumed it would be a vote to stay. (That's fact, not opinion - 7 in 10 voters expected a Remain win). Fear is a rational response - panic, however, isn't, and certainly isn't helpful in a situation like this. Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert said on this subject "The most important thing we can do is keep calm, carry on and act Normal. If we can manage to do that collectively, the impact of this sentiment change will be minimal" and also quite rightly that it's perfectly possible to talk ourselves into a recession - really not what anyone wants, surely? (He's also put together an interesting "Brexit Q & A" which can be found HERE - well worth a read).

So, from now on, can we all start trying tio look forwards, not back. There's no place for hate, whether pointed at those of other nationalities, or at those who chose to place their X in a different box to that which we chose. Anger is great, it can be a very positive, driving emotion, but if it's directed at those who "misinformed" you, perhaps it's time to stop and think where the responsibility for that REALLY lies - in the information that "they" provided, or in your lack of challenge to that information?



NOTE:  - I've thought hard about whether to disable comments on this one. At the moment I'm leaving them open, but some rules: Your comment does not descend into political ranting. Be polite and  above all constructive. No abusive language. Bear in mind that I've not said which way I've voted, and nor will I. You may disclose as you choose but please respect my decision and avoid speculating on what you "think" I chose - you stand a 50% chance of being wrong, in any event. ;-)  I'll be deleting comments that don't respect the above. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

We did it...

...finally, 13 years after moving into our flat, we took the plunge and got the bathroom sorted out. when I say "sorted out" - the builder who did the work asked on arrival exactly what we wanted done and the answer was "everything" - so everything it was - quite literally floor to ceiling and even most of the walls.

The issue we had with the bathroom from the start was that while it wasn't to our taste (far from it, in fact!) it was liveable-with. Once we'd got the previous occupants' years of neglect off the toilet, basin and bath that was. Even when the floor developed a hole, we learned to step over it and walk round it rather than be brave enough to actually commit to doing something about it. Over the years we've gradually put together ideas, thoughts and plans. That bathroom has been on our "to do" list for a VERY long while, and finally after a chat with a lovely friend a few months back (his take on it was "for goodness sake just DO IT - you'll talk about it forever!"), we took a deep breath and put the wheels in motion, getting the lovely Dave-The-Builder (he SO should have been called Bob!) to come and look, and quote, and then go ahead with the job.

The biggest issues with the old room (discounting the blue suite, and the hole in the floor already mentioned), were the size - the room is pretty much tiny, although still astonishingly bigger than the bathroom in our old place which just ludicrously small - and the lack of storage. There was a vanity unit under the sink but it was essentially one big cupboard, so it made finding anything in there extremely difficult and when you pulled one thing out, there was a tendency for domino-effect to kick in as lots of other things that you didn't want, followed the first. We stuck a set of wooden IKEA drawers on the window sill for odds and ends but that blocked a lot of light and didn't help much on the storage front, either. It also had a tendency to get terribly damp - the 1980's polystyrene ceiling tiles didn't help with that and were truly impossible to keep clean. Everything gradually turned black with mildew and as fast as you cleaned it off, more took hold. The double-glazed window had all its units blown - effectively meaning that it was no longer double-glazed, and the cistern on the loo was getting slower and slower to fill.

We decided from the start that if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right - no cutting corners to save costs, that while it might not be cheap it WOULD end up as we wanted it, and as it would best work for us. We discovered early on that there were ways of making savings too - for example the taps - we looked endlessly for the "right" thing, and finally found a set in one of the DIY warehouses for just under £200 for the pair - basin mixer and bath mixer - but looking online found an identical set from elsewhere for half the cost. The shower - again seen in real-life, but bought online saved us nearly £100. we could easily have spent three times as much on the plain white tiles for the majority of the walls, than we did - but you know, the 55p-a-tile ones looked every bit as nice, and the very first floor tiles that we actually liked enough to put on our floor turned out to cost us a grand total of £25.76 for the entire floor! Those savings in turn meant that when we DID need to spend a bit extra, we did it without flinching. These...

...for example - our gorgeous mosaic tiles. £135's worth  of gorgeous mosaic tiles, to be exact - BUT they were exactly what we wanted, and they look stunning! (they look even better now they're grouted in, too!) Size limitations meant that we were struggling to fit in anything more than a 2-door vanity originally, but I knew for sure that a while ago I'd seen one that had the layout we wanted AND fitted the gap, so I dug around on the internet until I turned it up.

Dave-The-Builder too had some great ideas to offer - it was his suggestion to paint the top half of the biggest wall in a very soft pale grey, for example, and also to continue the splashback of mosaic right across behind the loo, not just behind the sink. He also built the superb recess above the bath, meaning that shampoo bottles etc no longer need to sit on the edge of the bath getting in everyone's way and occasionally falling over and landing painfully on your toes...

This is the first serious job we've had done on the flat - and we've learned a lot from it - that a really good craftsman is worth his weight in gold, for example, Dave came to us as a recommendation and he's been brilliant. We ended up with the job going ahead quicker than we'd expected though - and that has caused some issues - basically I spent every spare second in the first week running round sourcing things, googling stuff and trying to get everything organised so it would be ready when needed. That when you live in a flat, having a garage which can be used for storage is a godsend - lord knows what we'd have done without that. That Topps Tiles online ordering system with "collection from store" means you have to wait longer for your tiles than had you opted for their free delivery to home. (Yes, that one caused a delay). That actually checking that that the Charcoal Grey rubbish bin you've ordered from the store IS Charcoal Grey, and not realising three hours after you get it home that, in fact, it's purple, saves a lot of time later. (No, it wasn't in a box, I was just so frazzled that I didn't even think about it. Credit to Dunelm Mill for superb customer service to sort that one out though!). Above all we've learned that attention to detail, and trusting your instincts, go a long way - the thing we're most pleased about is that we planned the room out from scratch ourselves, and it's all come together looking exactly as we hoped it would.


Thursday, 5 May 2016

Social Mediocracy...

I've posted before on the subject of Social Media, and it's good and bad sides. I'm still in two minds - I love the fact that it's so easy to share photos with an ever-wider audience on the likes of Twitter & Flickr, for example. That Facebook lets me stay in contact with people who otherwise, I'd have no likelihood of staying in touch with, and whilst I may not have much to do with them, I wouldn't want to totally lose touch. Facebook is also great for keeping in touch with people who fall into certain "compartments" in my life - airshow people in the winter, Great British Beer Festival friends who live at the other end of the country from one August to the next. Instagram is ace for being able to just see little snippets of people's lives - some I know personally, others I don't, but I choose to keep my "follows" on there to a small group as mostly this means that I can keep up with my feed and don't miss too much. In part as a result of that I've been surprised how fast my number of followers has built up to be honest - but it's truly lovely that so many people like what I post on there.

One thing I really don't like about social media generally is the fact that it does seem to give a certain "type of person" an outlet to be snipey, bitchy or just plain cruel. The older I get, the more time moves on, the more I find online one-upmanship or spiteful behaviour to be completely unacceptable. If you're someone who regularly gets a kick out of making nasty little jibes at people, or patronising them, then get over yourself please - you are absolutely NO better than anyone else and the only person you will make look small, ultimately, will be yourself.  As someone who has been using assorted online forums for a good many years, it's a sad fact that there have always been "keyboard warriors" - the sort of folk who like nothing better than sitting hunched over their computer firing nasty little jibes at those who they think are a) the most likely to be affected and b) are least likely to retaliate. Just like any other playground bully out there, they won't generally attack anyone who they think is likely to challenge their behaviour, and if in an environment where others are likely to see their comments, they generally take care to ensure that, if challenged by someone else, they can claim not to have meant what is being suggested, that they are being taken out of context...

Generally speaking whether online or in real life I do have an issue with people being two-faced. I'm always doubtful about trusting, for example, someone who is sweet as pie to someone's face, yet will happily slag them off to me, behind their back. Not nice, and it doesn't take much thinking to realise that person would almost certainly be doing the same in reverse! Happy to maintain an aquaintance of sorts with someone like that, but they are definitely never going to be someone who I will trust with my innermost secrets! Again, it sort of feels as though Social Media does facilitate this sort of behaviour too. A friend on FB has regularly had problem with someone on their friends list who is clearly acting as a go-between - passing information about him back to somebody who has been responsible for some fairly nasty online bullying of my friend in the past - and this too is having a huge impact on him as he simply doesn't know who to trust anymore. Considering that my friend has a history (which he freely and publicly acknowledges) of severe depression - that's a pretty low way to behave, and watching him crumble when yet another incident of this behaviour rears it's head is so sad. He's got the person who was the original problem blocked on every possible level, as has his partner, yet still the information leaks back, and he's simply run out of ideas to stop it.

I regularly see cute little pictures being posted on Twitter, or lines in people's online biographies spouting legends about "being nice" - yet oddly enough so often, the sort of people who use that sort of thing are just the people who, when you watch their behaviour for a while, are about as far from "nice" as can be imagined! I often wonder if they replicate their online behaviour in real life - perhaps they are the people who will happily drive right down a closed motorway lane until they are practically on top of the incident it is closed for before confidently barging into a gap in the traffic that never really existed. Can they be found on trains sitting in someone else's reserved seat? Or maybe picking up every apple in the box in Tesco before selecting one perfect enough for them - carelessly throwing those they discard back into the heap to bruise them for everyone else? Are they those with a huge sense of entitlement and superiority complex who stalk around sneering at those they see as unworthy of or too lowly for their attention, and being rude to shop assistants just for fun? the one thing I am sure that all these people have in common is that actually, I suspect their lives aren't anywhere close to as happy as they try to pretend - nobody who is genuinely comfortable in their own skin, happy with their life and secure in their friendships has a need to act like this, do they, so perhaps these unpleasant characters we've all had the misfortune to run across, we should actually be feeling sorry for? I'll let you make your own mind up on that one, but you'll find me making every effort to avoid them, as I have been, thank you!

Friday, 1 January 2016

(Happy) New Year...

I'm not great with New Year. I tend to find the level of jollity expected quite hard to cope with - for me it tends to be a time to reflect back on the year gone and sometimes - 2015 was no exception - that can be quite sad. A very good friend lost to the dreaded Cancer - still slightly unbelievable that we'll never see her again, never stand on the steps at Foxhall Stadium cheering on the Witches together...our little Gang of Four has become a gang of three with her loss. My parents also said farewell to the older of their two dogs - although she'd reached a good age and definitely had a wonderful life throughout her time with them. Sad to see four-legged family members leave us though - especially ones you had a hand in the selection of during a trip to Battersea Dogs Home.  On a brighter note a friendship that I thought had to be let go has found a way through against the odds. Also something I'm still finding rather unbelievable - and yet which makes me smile every time I think about it. It's a friendship I value tremendously - and one which has taught me a lot, and I'm relieved beyond measure that we've found away to make it work. 

Lots of "pinch me" moments again in the last 12 months - mostly related to those Little Red Jets. Having photos used officially by the team was astonishing - and nothing I would have ever expected. Amazing to be given such incredible opportunities - and something that I never fail to be grateful for. So much fun around the airshows with the usual suspects - Claire, Kate, Tom & Anthony -- and we're planning more of the same for 2016. 

Elsewhere MrEH and I have made further progress towards killing off the mortgage over the past 12 months - and that attack will continue, albeit we are now very much on the home stretch. We've got plans also to start on some much-needed work on the flat - with a new bathroom being top of that list. We've also got plans for more UK travels including visiting a couple of new-to-us Hebridean islands, as well as our now regular trip to Uist. 

As usual I won't be making any New Year's resolutions, as such - I really don't believe in them. Aims for the year are really to enjoy life, to learn to accept things more readily, to accept in particular that sometimes friendships aren't "because of" anything, they just are. To accept that decisions made are usually for the best in the long term, but that doesn't mean that it's not entirely natural from time to time to reflect back and question whether a particular choice was the right one. To recognise the signs of the Black Dog approaching and to deal with them before it takes hold. To be happy.