Wednesday 31 October 2012

Top of the Table!

Just LOOK at this:

You can just see at the top of that table "Harlow 4" - yes, our brilliant rugby boys have only gone and maintained their unbeaten run to the top of the league!  Considering that we have already played once against - and beaten - the two teams who were the early season favourites as well - Renegades went away following a 17 - 5 defeat from our club, and a week later we travelled to Shelford where the boys came back from 19 points down to win by 7 - that is a pretty good record.  I suspect we came as a bit of a shock to Renegades too - they arrived at Harlow full of confidence after winning all of their previous four matches by good margins. Of course there is a long way to go yet, and we still have to meet some teams who have already proved they can pull off a surprise or two - Biggleswade's unexpected victory against Shelford the other week being a good example!

There are some peculiarities in that league table too - St Ives for example have only actually played 1 match - when they got beaten 87 - 12 by Cambourne - and the other 4 matches shown on their record have been conceded 15-0. In our case, we would have preferred them to actually come to us and play the match, as we would have expected to have scored a lot more than the 15 match points you get awarded for a conceded match. The problem we have is that while the majority of the other teams are in fairly close proximity, we are a bit further away and so teams who know they stand little chance of winning, or are struggling for players, are less inclined to travel to us. Annoyingly we have suspicions that at least one more side is likely to decline to travel down to us, although we didn't hesitate in making the 150 mile round trip to visit them earlier in the season!

From my perspective, photographing the rugby is filling the gap left by the speedway photography when I stepped away from that a couple of years ago. At the time pressures of work, and also a desire to actually SEE the speedway matches I was paying for admission to (yes, in spite of what a good number of folk thought at the time, I always paid my admission fee the same as the rest of them!) rather than having the very restricted view from down on a level with the track, meant that it was clearly the right decision, but it is nice to be back to photographing something a little more challenging, and less predictable, than my normal sort of things! It was great last year also to travel to Barcelona for an away match against Poblenou Enginyers - had I not been taking the photos I would probably have struggled to justify going along. My photos are also the one used for the promotional posters which go up at the club (and potentially in the future further afield across the town, also) too, and it's a great feeling to see your work blown up to poster sizes and on the wall, too!

If you would like to see more rugby photos, my shots from the past few seasons for the Harlow Fourth team "The Saints" can be seen at the Harlow Fourth Team Photo Site - a website set up specifically for sharing photos which occasionally include some from after match shenanigans of a rather too "fruity" nature for your average photo sharing website!


Saturday 27 October 2012

London's finest station?

I'm not convinced that question mark should be there actually - I would say - and I happen to known that my Dad would agree with me, that St Pancras IS London's finest station. I've blogged about it before - and that can't be said about any of the other stations in the capital I don't think?  There are few buildings in London more impressive than that fantastic 1868 Victorian facade...

And the vaulted roof was, for a good while, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. The work that was done refurbishing it for the arrival of the Eurostar service could have been an absolute disaster but is, instead, a complete triumph with the metalwork picked out in duck-egg blue contrasting beautifully with the red brickwork.

It's hard not to get excited about any station with trains going to such exotic locations - vaguely reminiscent of the old "Boat-Trains" or more recently the MotoRail & sleeper services - such long distances to travel on trains - a form of transport which we usually think of as being for shorter journeys...

A quick nose around the station's upstairs concourse turns up a number of interesting sculptures - first off our old friend John Betjeman of course -

- there he stands, coat tails flapping, shopping bag in hand, surveying that wonderful roof with an expression of wonderment. Around his feet, and on plaques set into the ground nearby, lines from his poems...

At the very end of the upstairs concourse, fittingly positioned under the clock, can be found Paul Day's "The Meeting Place" featuring a couple embracing. This has an almost timeless quality - the clothes clearly carefully chosen to ensure that it doesn't date -

  Around the base scenes familiar to anyone - all connected to stations and rail travel in some way - here servicemen returning to war being waved off by their families....

and a scene from St Pancras itself - a busy, bustling scene - I love the modern twist with the young lady on the right clutching her mobile phone!

The detail in these sculptures are incredible - if you think they look familiar then you would be right - the sculptor is the same person to have created the Battle of Britain memorial on the Victoria Embankment. Originally the frieze around the bottom of The Meeting Place was intended to contain a section depicting a commuter falling into the path of a tube train driven by the Grim Reaper, however after complaints this panel was replaced with another.


Friday 26 October 2012

Frugal Friday...

Frugal LAST friday to be exact, and a frugal train journey!

I've said on here before, I love travelling by train. In fact, it would be fair to say that for the most part I love travelling, full stop! Planes, boats, cars......trains have something special though, a buzz of excitement, without the tedium that comes to having to sit around in an airport several hours ahead of departure time. A lot of big stations feel a bit "airportish" anyway, don't you think? A friend said that recently, and I can really see what she means!

Anyway, given the chance to travel by train I will always grab it, so when the decision was taken to visit some cheery pals up in Sheffield, the train was always going to be my first port of call. First stop though was to see if it could be done in a budget friendly way. For this trip I headed to the MegaBus site - did you know they did trains as well? Not on all routes, but to quite a lot of big cities - Sheffield being one, Exeter, Liverpool and Birmingham being some of the others. Trick 1 with this site is that it helps to want to travel when other people don't, as the company that operates it works by buying seats from the train operators which would otherwise be unused, then selling them at a price which encourages people to use the train rather than other forms of travel. Costs are kept down by keeping the system ticketless - you simply get sent an email with a reference number, and showing that reference number is what gets you on the train. You can even simply show it on the screen of your phone - clever, hey? There is a booking fee, but this is only 50p per booking. Trick 2 - be flexible, you might want to travel at 8am, but chances are, travelling an hour earlier or later might net you a bargain. The same with dates - if you can adjust your journey to fit when the tickets are, maybe by travelling on a Friday rather than a Saturday, then you will find far better options are available for you. Trick 3 is to Stalk & Pounce! Familiarise yourself with the release dates for the tickets - this site is not like the train operators own, releasing the cheapest tickets a set period ahead of time, so keeping a close eye on the site enables you to pick the best bargains. If you are travelling over a period of time - away for several days, then buy your tickets singly, as otherwise you will miss the cheapest tickets on the outbound journey while waiting for the return one to be released! This time around, the "stalk and pounce" method got me a ticket to Sheffield for £1, with a same-day return costing £5. For that price I travelled on the same train, in the same carriage as other paying many times that amount.

Another option for bargainous train tickets is to use sites like Red Spotted Hanky - these are effectively agencies, dealing with tickets for all the main operators. In the case of RSH they charge no booking fees, have an easy to navigate site, and even reward you with "loyalty points" each time you spend, which can be set off against the cost of future journeys. Again, there are some tricks to getting the best deal: Trick 1 - BUY IN ADVANCE! Yes, I'm shouting - I will again - BUY IN ADVANCE!!! Even if only the day before, buying before you arrive at the station nearly always saves you something. Best of all is to buy when the really cheap tickets are released - usually around 13 weeks ahead. Last year this trick netted us a single ticket from London to Doncaster for just £9.35 These rock-bottom priced tickets go quickly though, so do your research ahead of time, be ready to get online as soon as they are released, and move fast. Trick 2 - Beware of hidden fees - some sites will charge you a booking fee, or to post the tickets out to you (the cheapest option is usually to collect from a station ahead of time) or even to pay by credit card! Although at a first glance one site may look cheapest, be certain it still is once any extras are factored in. Finally, the best of the bunch - Trick 3 - split ticketing. In a nutshell, this means buying more than one ticket, for your journey. So for example, travelling from Sheffield to Milton Keynes, but buying one ticket from sheffield to Birmingham, and a second for Birmingham to Milton Keynes. (That one saves about £14, last time I looked). You don't need to change trains, and usually not even seats, although if reservations are mandatory this may not be the case. You do need to do some research for this though - check where the train you want to travel on is stopping, as your "split" has to be at a "scheduled station stop". Beware also of stops where the train is scheduled to drop off passengers only - these are not that common, but for example applies to some trains from Edinburgh to London, stopping at Peterborough.

Having got my Frugal tickets, I made sure I was prepared to keep costs down as much as possible for the journey itself, too. The time of my train meant leaving home just after 7am, so I packed breakfast - a home made fruit slice and an apple. A bottle of juice brought from home made sure I didn't fall victim to "the trolley", and a handful of magazines passed on to me by a relation meant I didn't get mugged by WH Smiths, either! Finally a book ready for the way home, and the earphones for my phone to make sure I could drown out other people & crying babies, too! One luxury I do allow myself on a train journey is a cup of tea though, particularly on a cold day there is nothing better. A tip though - it is usually cheaper bought on the station platform before boarding, than once you are actually on the train itself!

What are your favourite tips for frugal travel? Is it plane, train or automobile for you, or does the bus win every time? Have you tried split ticketing with great results, or can you never make it work for you?


Tuesday 23 October 2012

A day out, with Tea & Cake!

How appropriate that a fun and cheery day out should start at my favourite of ALL the London Stations - St Pancras of course! Naturally any visit to this fantastic old Victorian masterpiece of architecture involves a wander across to pay ones respects to Mr Betjeman - did you know he was largely responsible for saving the station when there were plans to demolish it?  I'm glad he did - he certainly deserves his spot in the upstairs concourse, admiring the wonderful vaulted roof..., Mr B greeted, it was time to head off to the other end of the station to procure a cuppa and find my train...

...there's mine in the middle - do you see? Final destination Sheffield, which was indeed where I was headed, to meet two cheery internet-friends - just for a day out, nothing specific. The plan had originally been for a couple of other chums to come across and meet us as well, sadly real life, dog sitting and poorly tooths got in the way there - another time, hopefully!

Sheffield itself is a lovely city, with a mix of fine old buildings, intelligently and attractively designed new ones, lots of water features, a lovely Winter Gardens, and some stunning parks. We went for a wander around one of them....

Just look at the variations in colour in that picture. That is one of the University buildings - the law school I believe I was told. If you're going to study law, it would be nice to do so in such a lovely building, wouldn't it!

Just round another corner, and this tree leapt out at us and demanded to be photographed. Naturally we obliged - how could you possibly ignore something so, well, RED?!

Here it is again from a little closer up - a blaze of colour above, and on the ground where the leaves are falling too. Is it any wonder I love Autumn? We're lucky to have some fantastic open spaces where I live too, so I can imagine that the people of Sheffield really appreciate these parks.

One final one before we move on to the other important parts of the day...

Tea! And CAKE! Not all mine I hasten to add - none of us could decide which cake to have so we bought a slice of each of those that we especially liked the look of , and split them three ways. The tea was mine though - we had one of those each! See that on the right - that was Chocolate Orange Crunch - or something like that - and it was utterly delicious.

There was also a lovely lunch in a cafe that we thought was going to be called one thing, but turned out to be called something different - very tasty food though - a ride in a Paternoster Lift which was rather fun - and that, coming from me, is quite something, as I am REALLY not a lift fan - lots and lots of walking, lots and lots of chat, and finally dinner in a pub, with some beer. (There are pictures of none of those things, you will notice. There IS one picture of the Paternoster lift, but that has me in it, so the chances of it appearing on here - or indeed anywhere else - are pretty slim!)

Final shot of the day is this rather wonderful  water feature just outside the station - marvellous, eh?!


Sunday 21 October 2012

For Today...


Outside my window...darkness is falling, along with a gentle drizzle.

I am thinking... that as so often happens, I am trying to do too many things at once, and as a result am completing none of them!

I am thankful... that I have some fantastic friends - all of whom can add something of value to a debate or conversation.

In the kitchen... the bread machine will be on shortly, with dough for rolls for our lunches this week.

I am wearing... cow-print PJ bottoms and a warm, cosy fleece which cost me the princely sum of £1 in a charity shop!

 I am creating...This blog post!

 I am going...Absolutely nowhere! It is Sunday evening and I am staying right where I find myself. Warm & cosy.

 I am wondering...Which of my several "jobs-on-the-go" I should go on to next...

 I am reading... "When I heard the Bell" - the story of Britains second-worst peacetime disaster after the Titanic - involving a ship I bet none of you have ever even heard of - the Iolaire.

 I am hoping...for good weather next weekend for my trip down to Devon to see my Mum-In-Law.

 I am looking forward to...My trip down to Devon next weekend to see my Mum-In-Law!

 I am play the clarinet. Again. It would have been easier if I hadn't given it up for the last 30 years.

 Around the's quiet - MrEH is out picking rosehips, sloes and crabapples. The cat is sleeping.

 I am pondering...Whether "pondering" is the same as "wondering", and if so, whether the question 6 above this one, and this one itself, should have the same answer?

 A favorite quote for today...Honestly? I'm not good on quotes. Sometimes one leaps out at me, but only sometimes - I don't have a fund of them handy for every occasion!

 One of my favorite things...The fantastic autumn colour around us at the moment.

 A few plans for the rest of the week: Work, clarinet lesson, fab train journey to Devon.

A peek into my day...

Why not join in with your own "For Today" over at The Simple Womans Daybook


Friday 19 October 2012

Frugal Friday...

**Apologies, there are no photos with todays post, due to circumstances beyond our control. the ciurcumstances are a complete lack of organisation leading to a shortfall of time. Normal service shall be resumed shortly. **

The lovely Rhonda over at Down To Earth recently blogged on the subject of stockpiling. A stockpile is, in simple terms, a supply of items (usually foodstuffs) designed to enable you to get through a period of time when either you don't want to have to spend, or are unable to spend, larger sums of money on day to day living. So for example we make sure that our storecupboard is well built up running into the winter - a time when fuel bills increase and indeed sometimes when we simply don't want to have to spend ages wandering round the shops! We have several places where food lives within our home - the fridge & freezers obviously, and the larder which is mostly for the day-to-day "in use" items. I love our larder - in fact I can honestly say it was one of the selling points when we decided to buy our flat - an original 1950's tiled built-in larder cupboard. Even in summer it is the ideal place (down on the tiled floor) to keep things like beer, at a perfect drinking temperature! Then there is the storecupboard - in the hallway, in the centre of the flat, so dry, and a fairly even temperature - not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter. In the very bottom go cleaning products, washing powder etc - on the bottom so that if they leak, nothing else gets damaged. Above that - large bags of rice or pasta, and smaller items - crackers or crisps for example, which we put into re-used plastic carrier bags hanging from hooks screwed into one of the shelf-supports. Then the shelves - with flour, jars of jam, marmalade, jelly & chutney - some made by us, some swapped out with Mum-in-law - tinned goods, tea & coffee. At the very top is the large plastic box containing herbs and spices - keeping them in an airtight box helps preserve their flavour for longer and we only keep small amounts at any one time in the jars in the spice rack & cupboard.  Also right up there are things like packs of spaghetti, smaller bags of pasta or rice, porridge oats and couscous. Finally there is the "overflow box" in the spare room - basically containing the things that don't fit in the cupboard! At the moment that mostly has couscous in it - Approved Foods orders have a LOT to answer for!

Tinned goods live in a cupboard in the kitchen and because of that I don't technically consider them to be part of the stockpile. I usually try to make sure that the tin cupboard has the "building blocks" for quick meals - so tinned tuna (we buy Sainsburys Basics as Tesco have failed to deliver on their promise to switch to Pole & Line fishing, but still claim on their tins that their Value Tuna is "dolphin friendly" - it's really not folks, don't be fooled!), baked beans, sardines, kidney beans, coconut milk, chickpeas. Those last three items can often be bought at a bargain price from Approved Foods - they were selling decent coconut milk at 50p a tin earlier in the year so I stocked up well then.  For things like tinned pulses it is also worth looking at the "world foods" section in the supermarket, or if you have one nearby, an indian or chinese supermarket - products found here tend to be cheaper than even the standard supermarkets own brand goods. Baked beans are stocked up on when Lidl are selling 4-packs of Branston beans for £1 a pack - that makes the far tastier Branston beans less expensive than supermarket "basic" brands. Tuna is bought 10 tins at a time when I have nectar points to spend, and gets used for emergency lunches, as well as in pasta-bakes and the like.

Although we don't actively stockpile things into the freezer, we do use it for extending the lifespan of things bought on special offer - so when our local B&M Bargains were selling packs of Sharwoods Naan breads for 19p each recently, I stocked up and popped them into the freezer. I also like to make sure there is always frozen vegetables in there, plus things like milk. This means that in the event of emergency such as really severe weather (unlikely, but seemingly becoming more possible in the UK?) or a real cash-shortage, we can manage without shopping at all for a couple of weeks, and only buying the minimum for a while after that.

Another blogger to talk about stockpiling recently is Sue at The Quince Tree - she has embarked on her very own "storecupboard challenge", which made interesting reading! Why not pop over there for a look?

Do you have a stockpile, a storecupboard, a larder or a pantry? Which foodstuffs do you like to make sure are in it? What influences your purchases? Or perhaps you think that the whole thing is a nonsense and you just pop to the shops whenever something runs out?


Wednesday 17 October 2012

All the notes, but not necessarily in the right order!

When I was at Primary School, there was quite an importance placed on playing an instrument. Everyone had the choice to take up any one of a range of instruments, from the cello to the trumpet, and the local education authority had a stock of them to lend out. My first foray into the world of music was probably when I was about seven, when I chose the flute. Now that was all well and good, until it was pointed out that, as a fairly short child, I struggled to reach the end of it. Tricky to play an instrument you can't reach the end of, so back went the flute, to be replaced with an Oboe. I liked the Oboe, there is no question about that, but I didn't like it enough to practise regularly, or without daily nagging. After a few months, the decision was taken that the Oboe would go to join the flute.  After a bit of a break, and probably quite a lot of "Please let me have another instrument please please PLEASE!" type begging from me, I was signed up for clarinet lessons....

The Clarinet was FAR more successful than the earlier instruments - I really enjoyed playing it, and being that bit older, was ready - at least at first - to take a bit more responsibility for regular practice.  Over time though the novelty faded a little, and by the time I had reached the end of the hire period for the school Clarinet, it was decided that I wasn't committed enough to learning to justify the cost of an instrument being bought for me. Fair decision, no arguments there. My final foray into the world of musicianship at that stage was a step away from the woodwind family to a violin. Thankfully for all concerned, the hideous noises I was able to produce with it were enough to put me off fairly rapidly!

Every now and again over the last 30 or so years, I have found myself hankering after the idea of being able to play an instrument. For the most part this has been no more than a fleeting thought, but recently, as a result of having two friends who both play (Flute, in their case, they clearly longer arms than I did as children!) I have been thinking about it again. This time though, rather that just pushing the idea away again, I investigated for a local teacher, and bought a clarinet!

Actually, I bought two clarinets - the first, from eBay - turned out not to work terribly well. Well, actually, it turned out not to work. The second works just fine though, and while it looked a slightly sad, tired thing when I first got it home, a bit of elbow-grease with a microfibre cloth transformed it. It sounds rather lovely too - well it does sometimes, and more so when my teacher plays it than when I do, if I'm honest....

So far, so good, I'm enjoying playing again so much that practising regularly isn't any kind of issue. At least,not for me, the neighbours may feasibly have other views on this, but so far none of them have said anything... The cat hasn't said anything either, she just removes herself to the far end of the flat every time the black shiny thing makes an appearance. MrEH has been delighted by the fact that I can play the opening bars of the Welsh national Anthem. Those that know MrEH will be able to picture the true depth of his emotions on discovering this...


Monday 15 October 2012

Autumn colour...

I love this time of year. I don't really have a favourite season as such - I like Summer for its warmth and the hope of blue skies and sunshine, days out, camping trips and eating ice cream by the seaside. Spring of course - seeing the countryside wake up, green shoots and fresh, crisp mornings. Winter is cleansing somehow - there is something reassuring about being warm inside while it's absolutely freezing outside, snuggled under a thick duvet or walking through the countryside tucked into a thick coat, cosy scarf & warm boots. Autumn though...autumn truly is special, with something to appeal to each of our senses.

Sight - the blazing reds, yellows and oranges of the leaves turning on the deciduous trees contrasting  with the green of the coniferous, and the grass surrounding them. Sound - dead leaves crunching under foot. Taste - toffee apples, treacle toffee and sausages in buns! The smell of bonfires, and the touch of soft raindrops on your face.

I'm lucky to live in a town where much emphasis was placed on green spaces when the town was being designed. It means that at this time of year, everywhere you look there is incredible colour, and a simple walk from here to the station, for example, is an absolute joy. The pictures I've added to this post were mostly taken in a stroll through the Town Park on the way to the Rugby Club on Saturday. MrEH needed the car (his is off the road at the moment) and I had no hesitation whatsoever in agreeing to walk over later, because I knew what a pleasure it would be. In fact, I got so distracted taking photos I missed the kick-off of the match - oops!


Friday 12 October 2012

Frugal Friday...

What with trying to keep spending down a little this month on the regular stuff, I ventured to the shops last friday with a firm eye on the budget. There were certain things we did need, but equally there were others - milk for me, for example - where the freezer could come to the rescue. I buy milk in 4 pint containers, as that is the cheapest way to purchase - under 30p a pint, whereas buying a pint at a time, as you need it, will cost you 49p a pint. I drink skimmed or semi-skimmed in any case - well, when I say "drink" I mean "put in tea" and "Cook with" - and both of these last way beyond their sell-by date. So, I buy a 4 pint container, freeze half of it into two individual pint bottles, and then the rest gets put in the fridge for immediate use.

As well as the regular food-type bits, I needed toothpaste. I'm remarkably unfussy about the brand of toothpaste I use - simply going for whichever good quality one is on special offer at the time, and the best deal I've found anywhere tends to be in the 99p shop. This week was no exception - a twin-pack of Colgate for 99p. While I was in there, two other people picked up the single tube of Colgate alongside the twin pack and walked off with those - goes to show, it pays to look a bit harder. While I was in town there were some PR people giving out sample tubes of Aquafresh as well, I ended up with three, so that will sort out toothpaste for holiday and trip away next year, at no cost to us.

Sainsburys was the next stop - it needed to be as I had used their car-park - two hours free parking for customers, so I became a customer by buying a couple of things we would use or needed anyway - a packet of butter and 2 more tins of tuna, total spend £2.69. £2.50 of this was paid for with nectar points, leaving a 19p cash spend. On receiving the receipt, I discovered that two vouchers had been printed by the till as well - one for £2 worth of Nectar points if spending £20, and the other for 40p of nectar points on a product I would happily buy in any case. Can you guess where I'm shopping this week?!

On to Tesco - site of the "proper" weekly shop this time around as I had another of those "£2 off when you spend £20" vouchers. If I'm buying to a target amount like that I use the calculator on my phone to keep track as I go round the store and aim to get as close as possible to the spend threshold. As you can see from the picture above I did quite well for my £20 spend this week. I got a large box of washing powder, 4 pints of full-fat milk for Ben, 2 bags of apples, nectarines, bananas, salad, spring onions, a savoy cabbage, mushrooms, a dozen free range eggs, 4 x bread rolls and 2 x packs of yogurts. The whole lot came to £20.62, of which £5.50 was the washing powder. Combined with what we have in the storecupboard, larder, fridge & freezer already, that £13.12 food spend (remember I had the £2 voucher) will feed the pair of us easily this week. The fruit mainly gets eaten with lunch, the yogurts make a perfectly acceptable pudding for after week-night teas. The eggs will make sandwiches for lunch, omlettes for a main meal, and are there for any baking I do as well. the Spring onions were on a "2 for £1" deal with the savoy cabbage, so we'll be having stir-fry one night this week with some of the mushrooms. Although I meal plan several weeks in advance, one of the key things for us is to stay flexible to take advantage of any special offers, so this weeks planned soup (Tuesday) will be a stir fry instead, and we will have nice chunky frittata style omlettes on Monday with the salad I bought.

How do you organise your shopping then? Having written your meal plan do you write your list accordingly and only buy what is on it regardless of what specials there are? Or maybe you shop according to special offers and then plan the meals around what you've bought?


Tuesday 9 October 2012

What's in a name?

I've been doing a lot of walking lately around the area I have been working. Partly to kill time - to keep diesel costs down MrEH and I car share three days per week, and he doesn't finish work as early as I do -and partly to get a bit of extra exercise. It's always interesting when you start walking around an area that you usually just drive through, though, don't you think? You notice thjngs that either you have just driven past without thinking of previously, or that in fact you had no idea were even there! Take a look at this:

I've driven along here countless times and had NO idea this was here! There is more information about them HERE - but basically it denotes where the Meridian line passes through the Borough. Here- have a closer look...

The area where I found that is one of those areas with "linked" street names - in this case place names - so Peterborough, Liverpool, Matlock, Nottingham, Canterbury & Carnarvon Roads. (Curiously, Carnarvon road has one sign spelt the Welsh way - Caernarfon - and the remainder all appear to be the standard English spelling). I've always been fascinated by road names, and indeed by maps - I can happily pore over old maps for hours at a time, and Google Earth is an endless source of entertainment! The area where I grew up had several sets of linked names - we played around Tavistock, Farnborough & Blenheim Avenues,  and I had friends living in Queen Elizabeth & King Edward Roads. Road names can tell you a lot about the originator or designer of a location too - in Saltaire, West Yorkshire, the founder of the town - Sir Titus Salt, named a number of the roads after members of his family, with Mary, Helen, Ada, George & Caroline all being featured, as well as a good number more. Where I live now, our roads are grouped mostly by letters - so Great & Little Parndon's main roads mostly start with P, while Mark Hall has mostly M's. (We also have the most unimaginative First, second, Third, Fourth & Fifth Avenues - the less said about those the better perhaps!)

Sometimes road names tell you what you might find if you walk along them - Lea Bridge Road for example will indeed lead you to a bridge over the River Lea, and we used to have great fun as children rollerskating at top speed from the top of Higham Hill Road. Sometimes we even managed to stop before shooting across the side road at the bottom! Historically of course these "factual" names would have given travellers welcome clues as to their destination - if you're trying to find somewhere to catch a train Station Approach is likely to give more encouragement than Hospital Parade, for example. Many of these will have originated from common usage of course - Old Mill Lane (Dartmouth, Devon) - the old Mill building still stands - and almost anywhere that you find a road bearing a place name - London Road, Cambridge Road etc. Still others originate from history and are of little logic or relevance now - Whipps Cross Road, for example, doesn't have half the racy connotations it's current name suggests, and whether Dick Turpin actually passed along Blackhorse Road in Walthamstow, who knows, but it gave a good legend to inspire the artwork for the Victoria Line station of the same name!

Why not have a closer look at your local road names next time you're out walking, and then if you find anything interesting, explore the history to see what you can find out? Just don't blame me for the vast amount of time you might end up wasting on Google maps though!


Friday 5 October 2012

Frugal Friday...

There is no question, we've said goodbye to summer and autumn is now making its presence felt. We've changed for our mid-weight duvet on the bed, and are remembering to pull the blind down in the bathroom overnight to avoid it being cold in there in the mornings. The thermal roller-blind we have in there wasn't particularly expensive, but it saves us needing to heat the room in any other than the coldest of weather so has probably paid for itself already in the one winter we've had it in place.

We've had some great fun this summer - in fact we seemed to go through most of it with plans for every weekend! Of course though that level of living life to the full does have an impact financially - we've still maintained our overpayments to the mortgage mind you, those get prioritised - but our personal savings and the accounts we have specifically to budget for getting out and about could do with some TLC. We'll make the most of a quiet couple of months now to recharge not only our own batteries, but the financial ones too, to ensure that by the time we need it, there is some cash in the "fun fund" again.

Some areas of expenditure naturally ease up at this time of year - we don't tend to be away so much as with the rugby season in full swing Ben has matches on saturdays and I am usually there too with the camera gear. The photo kit was pricey to buy in the first place but other than the occasional memory card or replacement batteries running costs now are pretty much zero. Matches are mostly fairly close to home and there are sometimes car-shares with other players too to cut down the diesel cost a bit. I eat lunch before I go, and as I'm driving I generally stick to soft drinks in the clubhouse - in fact in the depths of winter, after 80 minutes on the touchline, you want nothing stronger than a cup of very hot tea!

If we're looking for something to do on a Sunday, we have our RSPB and National Trust memberships - we donate to the RSPB monthly, and I quite often visit our local reserve to get a lovely walk in the fresh air. As members, even the parking is free! Having paid for the privilege it would be silly not to visit the places!

One area I am looking at cutting back on this month is our spend on food. We have a Tesco "Clubcard plus" account which means we get extra clubcard points on what we spend using the card. Each month the account is fed with £150 and all our food and cleaning materials for the month come from this. Shopping at Tesco itself is paid for straight on the card, whilst I can use it at cashpoints to withdraw money when I want to shop elsewhere. I have two "£2 off when you spend £20" vouchers to use this month so I will do two shops of that amount to get the benefit - those will be when I buy things like washing powder. Other than that we will buy as little as we can, and raid the freezer, larder and storecupboards to make our meals. I drew up our meal plan for the month today, and that will evolve through the month as I raid the freezer. At some stage I will spend £10 on meat in Morrisons - nearly all their meat stocked is British, which means it meets higher welfare standards than it might if it came from elsewhere. I'll look for the cheap cuts - beef skirt, lamb breast, pork cheeks - and will then batch-cook to get the best value out of what I've bought. We have lots of sausages in the freezer at the moment- bought when they were on special offer a couple of months back, and the other weekend's roast chicken was stripped off the carcass after we had our sunday lunch from it and has been portioned up into the freezer - it made a chicken curry for Friday night, and we have another three meals-worth to eat yet!

Are you cutting back ahead of the winter too, and making the most of what you have? There seems to be a lot of "no shopping" and similar challenges around at the moment - I'm not unrealistic enough to think this will work for us - nor would I want it too, I like my fresh fruit and veg! - but I do intend to cut our expenditure as much as I can, I wonder how we will fare?


Thursday 4 October 2012

The one where Ben picks up a bird...., it's alright, this isn't an admission of marital disharmony! For Ben's birthday earlier in the year, I bought him a "Falconry Experience" half day, up at the English School of Falconry near Bedford. Finally a couple of weeks ago we got to go and do it - they were so busy it had to wait until three months after his birthday! well worth waiting for though - the centre itself is lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The first half hour or so was spent in a short induction, telling us a little bit about the birds generally, and the safety stuff - keeping our fingers away from beaks and feet!

Yes, you can see why they said that, can't you! Following on from that it was time to fly some of the birds between the members of our group - first a beautiful Tawny Owl....

 Stunning, eh? These are the birds that make the well known "Twit-Twoo" call - although if you hear that what you are actually hearing is two owls, one male, one female, calling to one another. (Yes, if you were in any doubt ladies, the Male is of course the "Twit"!). The surprising thing about these owls is just how light they are - in fact, for their size, ALL owls are lighter than you might expect - I barely noticed when the little lady above landed on the glove. They are silent in flight as well of course - all the better for pouncing on unsuspecting prey!

The Second bird we flew was this wonderful female Kestrel...

 Pretty, aren't they? These of course are the birds we commonly see above motorway verges - hovering with incredible precision, head absolutely still. They are the only bird of prey to be able to do a "true" hover - some others such as the buzzard can hover with the aid of the wind, but not simply by using their wings and tail feathers. What you don't realise is just how small they are - they look quite big up in the sky with wings extended and tail fanned. Actually, that photo isn't the best to give you a sense of scale - try this:

 That gives a better sense of scale with the glove in the picture as well. the female bird is quite substantially bigger than the male, too - they really are quite tiny!

After that we headed off to handle some more birds for a while - a Chilean Blue Eagle, a Harris Hawk, and starting off with this European Eagle Owl - substantially bigger than the others, that one, and I confess to having a slightly achy arm after holding him for a while!

Finally we watched one of the Centre's twice-daily flying displays, which rather unusually included storks, and pelicans, although there wasn't that much "flying" from those! The whole experience was fantastic, great birds in a wonderful setting, and we learnt lots, too! We're both now keen to do more along the same lines - possibly a day or half day hunting with Harris Hawks, so watch this space!