Friday, 27 November 2020

Frugal Friday...

(Low light shot taken with iPhone 12 Mini)

Our Sky contract (for phone, broadband and TV combined) recently came to an end, and the amount leaving our bank account for it each month came close to doubling. Long term readers will be aware that we don’t like it when this happens, although this time round it slipped through the net for a little longer than usual as we knew that the building we live in was about to be surrounded in scaffolding, and last time this happened they took the dish down and we were without a signal for an appreciable amount of time, so we wanted to hold off committing to a new contract until we knew what would happen there, rather than potentially end up paying for something we couldn’t use. 

18 months ago I beat Sky down to the grand sum of £35 a month for all three services. At the time this was an offer being marketed at new customers, so I made the entirely reasonable point that if new customers would get that price, you’d think that really long term customers like us would be able to get it too. It’s fair to say that Sky didn’t entirely agree, but they did eventually get bored with me repeating “but that’s not what your advert says” every time they insisted that I “had” to add this package or that extra to the deal, bumping the price up to what they felt was reasonable, and I felt wasn’t...

We’ve always tended towards quite simple tastes. Our phone service is simply the line rental - when we make phone calls we use our mobiles as we both have calls included in our contracts on those. The TV is a fairly basic package - we’re not interested in movies or sports packages, and have no need of kids TV channels. For the past few years we have added the Box Sets pack as we’ve found plenty of stuff to watch in there, and the £5 a month it cost was well worth the cost. Broadband too - a standard service, no fibre here as we do very little downloading or streaming, and the ordinary slow internet has always been fine...of course now not only we, but rather a lot of other people too, are at home and using it more, it does feel rather more restrictive. Add to that the small matter that literally on the day our Sky contract ended, the speed dropped off appallingly - at one stage literally making it impossible to use for anything else while a TV show downloaded onto the Sky box...! Combine the sneaking suspicion that Sky were throttling our broadband speed, with a lingering feeling that, quite honestly, I was a bit fed up with having to spend anywhere up to an hour plus on the phone every 18 months or so just to get a fair price for a not that great product, and we decided that a bit more research should be done. 

First step was the assess our broadband speed. Sky themselves offer various tools for checking the service,  and their speed gizmo told me that we were getting in the region of 6.1mbps. Ok - not great, but for standard internet, not that surprising. Then I ran a couple more speed checks via independent speed-check services...and got a figure of around half what Sky were claiming...hmmm! At that stage we decided that had made our minds up, and that we would move provider. As usual, was our reference of choice for finding the best deals out there at the moment. We narrowed it down to 2 options, discussed the pros and cons of each, and then signed up for a new “fast fibre” supply with phone line included, for £10 a month less than Sky were charging us at that stage, with a further discount in the form of a chunk of bill credit to come back in a few months. By the time you read this post our new supply will have been in place for several days, all being well, and hopefully we’ll be enjoying rather faster speeds than we were previously!

All that was left then was to sort out the TV once we had set our minds at rest about the scaffolding, and that proved surprisingly easy. A quick look at the “SkyVIP” app showed me that they had once again restructured the packages they offer - combining great basic TV pack and box sets together into one deal, for £25 a month, a price we decided we were happy with. More to the point, there were no other packages for a better price from suppliers we would go with, and we get an option to add a cut-price Netflix package to that if we want to also. In summary, we are paying more than we were before, but should also be getting a better service than previously, and with the amount we are relying on the broadband at the moment, plus the prospect of a winter where we will be indoors a lot more than usual, it feels worthwhile and a good use of our money. Haggling can be great, but sometimes you just need to vote with your feet! 


Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Looking back...


Obviously we’ve had almost no airshows this year, and relatively little aviation action all told. As much as I’ve missed that, it has at least given me a chance to look back to pick up on gaps from photos taken in years gone by. 

Recently I’ve been working through shots from 2014 - my first season of “full on” airshows and one which got extremely busy from June onwards with lots of excitement and stuff happening - check back at my “CircusAtWork” tag over in the cloud to the right for a reminder!  Because of that I wasn’t hugely surprised that there were a fair few images that I’d seemingly never so much as glanced at previously. So far a I’ve found shots of some great old favourites (like the Lancaster above, seen here at Waddington Airshow) and also some aircraft that we’ve not seen in the air since like this English Electric Canberra and Hawker and Hunter pair...

...operated by Midair Squadron - sadly their operation had to close down at the end of that season due to lack of funds and most of the aircraft have now been sold overseas.

It’s been a real voyage of discovery going back through so many happy memories too - thinking back to things like seeing the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers flying together, all the activity around the Red Arrows 50th display season and the many friends I made at that time - several of whom I’m still close friends with now. While we’ve all missed the fun and activity we’re used to in a normal summer this year,  we have still managed to cram in whatever has been possible when we’ve been allowed to, and when we can get back to airshows it will perhaps feel all the sweeter for the enforced break! 


Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Close of day...


During the first U.K. lockdown for the first few weeks I took photos most days - either documenting the stuff that was going on relating to the unprecedented situation we found ourselves in, or using the sheer amount of sunshine we had during those weeks to play with my macro lens. This time round it’s been colder, shorter hours of daylight, and frankly, the whole situation has long since passed the point of fascination into “when will it be over” boredom. That said though, the promise of what looks like it might be a nice sunset is still enough to get me out of the door even now, and all the more so with a new phone camera to try out...

A short wander from home up one of the town’s old roads - now a cycle track and footpath - gets me to a position where you can look due west across fields (the same fields that house the cows during the summer - I’ve posted photos of them before I think?) and I was greeted with the sight above. As is so often the case, the best of the light came after the sun sank below the horizon... the sunlight reflects off the cloud. This is how even on a quite overcast day you can often get a good sunset, and also why it’s always worth holding on a few moments after the sunsets to have set - often the best is yet to come...

...and even a slightly zoomed in phone shot can work out quite nicely!

After ten minutes or so I turned back towards home - keeping my eye on the clouds as I went back down the Lane...

...and then finally when almost back at home - such a variation in colours, and some beautiful cloud formations too - well worth a stroll in the chilly autumn air! 


Monday, 23 November 2020

Lessons learned...ish...

A misty morning at Netteswell Pond.

A few weeks ago I wrote about being foolish, and continuing to run when I wasn’t feeling 100%, and ending up making myself poorly for a good few days. Having acknowledged that, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t do that again - and indeed I even took a full week off running to properly recover my energy levels. 

Last week was another “low energy” one - nothing lurgy-related this time, simply one of those things that happens from time to time as a result of a health issue. I’m used to it - sometimes it stops me doing things sometimes it doesn’t. Sensibly I decided that running on Monday wouldn’t be sensible, but instead I’d go for a longer walk. I was still low on energy on Tuesday but decided it wasn’t enough to put me off running...and by the end of the week I’d set my sights on my planned three runs in the week and my weekly goal distance. Circumstance also lead me to do quite a lot of walking throughout the week, including a trip to the sorting office to collect a parcel that the postman didn’t even attempt to deliver. Friday’s run was frustrating - my legs felt heavy, I felt generally really tired. I ticked off my three miles and called it a day. I told myself that the weekend would be more relaxing, with less distance...

...well it sort of was...! I think this might be the most distance I’ve recorded in a week since I originally got my first FitBit back in April 2017. I’ve done 100km weeks a couple of times - notably the week we did our first Underground Overground walk, and on a few other occasions since then too, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve hit 114km in a week. Ironically it really wasn’t intentional, and undoubtedly it wasn’t a great week to do it either! 

This week will be a bit less active for sure - I’m planning 2 runs, and quite a bit less walking, probably saving any higher mileage days for the weekend when MrEH wants to head out as well. There’s no question that I do need a bit of recovery time and this time I intend to remember the lessons I’ve learned previously! 


Sunday, 22 November 2020

This week...

 ...has mostly been about movement (I’ve covered over 70 miles walking & running this week!)  and finding my way round my new phone, or more specifically it’s camera. With my old iPhone SE being 4 years old, there have been huge advances in phone cameras since I bought last - not least in terms of the low-light capability...

Moot House - Harlow

It deals really well with both the bright doorway and the darker shadowed areas in the foreground and on the roof, neither blowing the highlights or losing the shadows, and replicating really well the colours present in the scene - it’s nice to find a mobile camera that doesn’t try to cancel out warm light in a shot.

There has been plenty of lovely warm autumn colours to try it out with too - this time of year our town really comes into its own with all the green spaces and planting turning to yellows, reds and oranges. 

I’ve picked up on a project I began some years ago again recently too - my other blog,  Recording Harlow which looks at the history of our town, and specifically what has changed over the years. Quite a bit of my walking this week has been around the various neighbourhoods searching for bits of history and also trying to capture more of the autumn colour where I can.  

We also have several areas of woodland scattered around the town - among them Brenthall and Barnsley Wood which forms the border between two of the newer housing developments on the east. At this time of year there seems to be fungi wherever you look in the woodlands - so a good opportunity to try out the camera’s close up capability too - and it’s no slouch! 

Another thing I have long envied those with newer phone cameras is their wide angle lenses - and the new iPhone doesn’t disappoint on that level either! There is a fair bit of distortion but then you expect that with this field of view...
Our Lady of Fatima Church 

...I’m certainly looking forward to playing with THAT setting in the Hebrides, it’s just meant for those wonderful landscapes! It’s certainly done justice to all the detail in our local Catholic church, above with good sharpness across the frame from spire to the intricately patterned brick wall. 

So far then, hugely impressed. Apple have gone over from giving us the option of using HDR mode (high dynamic range) to “auto HDR” which I confess made me slightly nervous as this is the sort of thing I’d usually rather have control over - however it’s a gentle touch that ensures that the detail in a bright yet overcast sky isn’t lost, and that colours are dealt with faithfully. Photographs from the iPhone 12 are mostly good to go straight from shooting from what I’ve seen so far, with less need of stand-alone processing apps to bring out the shadows and control the highlights. Depth of field is nice on close ups, and there is a portrait mode to create blurred backgrounds to help the subject stand out if required. I’ll be enjoying some more exploring to put it to the test even further this week, anyway! 


Friday, 20 November 2020

Frugal Friday...

 ...or - spending money wisely! 

It’s been a spendy few months. I mentioned before needing to replace our laptop as the old one (8 years old, and heavily used!) was threatening to keel over. We researched, chose - not the cheapest, but the one within our chosen budget that best suited our needs - and purchased on the cashback credit card (while it still pays cashback - that is changing soon) and then MrEH applied for a 0% balance transfer card, we threw the cost over onto there, and will pay off a chunk each month over the period of the 0% interest. The bulk of the money stays in our savings for the time being - it won’t get spent on anything else but it IS earning a teeny bit of interest still. 

The latest thing to need replacing is my mobile phone. My iPhoneSE is 4 years old, again, very well used, and now at the stage where the battery dies in a very short time indeed if I use it for anything at all, and even more so if I use it to take photos. Now, you know me...! I’ve been delaying looking at a replacement because Apple have been making the iPhone progressively larger and larger for years, and they are simply too large to use comfortably in my fairly dinky hands. Even the new SE is substantially bigger than the old one was. And yes - to quote Martin Lewis, “iPhones are never MoneySaving” - but I like them - I find them intuitive to use, I like the way they perform, and I do, after all, get my money’s worth. I also don’t have an expensive phone contract to add in to the equation - my EE SIM only deal costs me under £9 a month for unlimited calls and texts, and more data than I can use. When Apple announced the release of the new iPhone12 mini I decided it was time for a straight comparison between that and the new model SE, released a while ago. The new SE model appealed on price - no question, BUT it did fall short on a number of other factors - not least size and weight, the 12 mini being substantially smaller and lighter. The 12 is also of course an absolutely bang up-to-date phone - all the technology is the most modern I’m going to get right now, whereas as with the original SE, the technology in the SE2 is based on an older model of phone. Both would demand new headphones - no headphone jack on either model, and a new phone case too. I did my usual pros and cons - and eventually came to the conclusion that the only “pro” of the updated SE would be the far lower price tag... In any normal year that substantial difference in price might have been enough to convince me (although ai suspect I would have regretted it later) but 2020 has - as we know - been anything BUT normal, and I have a fair fund of airshow savings from events that were cancelled during the summer, of course, so the decision was made. Use the money I already had stashed aside, with subsidy from the airshow savings account for the price difference. The new phone was pre-ordered last week (just after our credit card statement date!) using the cashback card again, and the cost will shortly be transferred onto another 0% balance transfer card and paid off in the same way as the laptop will be. 

Neither of these purchases were frugal in the traditional sense - but in the case of both we will get value from them, they were carefully researched, they will almost certainly last longer than a cheaper alternative, the money was already saved ready and waiting for the point when it was needed, and most importantly for us, the purchase is managed to leave the money with us for as long as possible AND earn us a small amount of cashback in the first instance, and interest in the longer term. The use of credit, meanwhile, will cost us nothing. Being frugal isn’t always about spending nothing - but rather about choosing carefully what to spend your money on, and so far as possible, making it work well for you while doing so. 

(The new phone arrived earlier in the week and early impressions are excellent - the camera in particular being a real step up from my previous model. As, these days, my phone also takes the place of a compact camera in my everyday life, this was quite a consideration. The shot at the top of the post gives an idea of the quality even in very low light.)


Sunday, 15 November 2020

For Today...


It’s been a good while since I have done this - indeed I had no idea if the Blog hosting it does though, so I will follow the guidelines as always. 

Looking out of my window
It’s raining, and breezy. The beautiful golden autumn leaves of the birch trees are dancing and every now and again a particularly strong gust of wind sets the falling like snow onto the grass...

I am thinking
Random, scattered thoughts. The weather, that there is little nicer than being cosy indoors on a wet, chilly day...

I am thankful
For a day with no pressure to do anything in particular - we may go for a walk, there is a jigsaw to be done, sent by a friend, so if the weather doesn’t improve boredom will not be a threat!

One of my favourite things
Starting the day slowly, quietly. Tea, toast, a good book...

I am creating
I’m spending much of my time during the week currently working through the many old photos I have on backup drives - airshow from years ago where I ran out of time to go right through the shots before the next show came along - enjoying both the memories and also that I am producing new shots to share with those who appreciate them. 

I am wearing
Right now? Pyjamas still!

I am reading
I’ve been working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s marvellous “Outlander” series again from the beginning - wonderful characters, beautifully written. 

I am hoping
That we soon start to see better news relating to the Covid 19 virus which is still giving the U.K. as a whole such problems. The second wave is now gathering pace - England has been in our second lockdown now for just over a week - that is due to end in Early December but we can only wait, and hope, that it does...

I am learning
Better ways of doing some of the things I do to process my photos. I have an updated version of Photoshop - necessary because of our replacement laptop and it has some features which are new to me. 

In my kitchen
The slow cooker has been on overnight with a beef stew which we will have half of for lunch - the balance will be eaten during the week. We also have a full bag of red onions to make red onion marmalade with...once MrEH has tracked down the recipe we have used previously to good effect!

In my garden
The growing season is mostly over, here. We did well this year from our tiny space - a good crop of tomatoes from a few potted plants on the balcony. A steady supply of runner beans for several months - the last of those were eaten just last week. Kale - the plants are still there but they have now been rather badly attacked by a small but determined greyish sort of fly so we will probably get no more from those. 

Shared Quote
Not a quote as such, but just perhaps, some wisdom. 
You are enough as you are. You are not a work in progress. 

A moment from my day

A slow start...

Closing Notes
It’s a tough time for many of us at the moment. Shaken out of our usual routines - in some cases for quite literally months, and with little idea when (or indeed, if) we are likely to resume any sort of normality. A dismissive, “snarky” comment from an acquaintance this week brought home to me how important it is to recognise now that the shape of everybody’s stress looks different - for one person yes, it might be a stressful job, but for another it might be not having gainful employment. In the U.K. many people are like me, still furloughed - being paid a proportion of their working wage but effectively giving nothing in return - not a comfortable way to live, for most of us. At this time of year there is seasonal work out there for sure - but assuming we can live on our furlough wages, should we take that purely for occupation allowing that we know there are many more out there who need that employment to live on, and we would be taking opportunity from them? THAT doesn’t feel comfortable to me, either. Be kind. If your only response to something is to say something unpleasant, catty or spiteful, then please, just take a breath, step away and leave it unsaid. If someone makes such an unpleasant comment to you remember that it says more about them than you. Take note - reconsider that person’s place in your life, and consider whether it requires a reaction or whether you are better just to ignore it, and not give the perpetrator the attention  they are clearly craving. 


Inspiration from The Simple Woman’s Daybook...