Monday 30 September 2013

It's started again...

...for the next few months my Saturday afternoons (well, the dry ones where there's not actually snow on the ground in any event) will mostly be spent dashing up and down the sidelines taking photos of the Harlow "Saints" Rugby guys in full flight. I missed the first couple of matches of the new season as we were away at Ludlow and Sheringham, so this Saturday's trip just up the road to Brentwood RFC was my first match of the season. We're playing in a different league this season - the Essex merit table, division 5, and most of our matches will be far more local than we've been used to. One of the reasons for the change was the reluctance of some of the other sides in the old league to travel to us, in spite of us having made long trips for our matches at their clubs. We seemed to spend half of the season with matches being called off, hence the decision to change.

We arrived to find that the Brentwood team had suffered from several players dropping out at short notice, leaving them several players short of being able to field a team, so Mr EH played for them in the first half, and a couple of our other players donned their colours during the second half of the match. Lower league rugby is like this - people would rather change shirts and play for the opposition and actually get a match than have a situation where the other side have to concede - it's a refreshingly sporting attitude. And far from what you might think - once you've "switched sides" there is no holding back - the match is played with just as much determination as if you were playing for your normal team!

In spite of players playing "musical Shirts", and a brief spurt of energy from Brentwood at the start of the second half that saw them banging in 2 tries in quick succession, this one went well for the Saints, ending in a 50- 21 win. As usual we had decent travelling support - one of the home team said "I think there are more supporting Harlow here than for our lot!" - and yes, she was right.

I always "double up" on kit for rugby matches, much as I used to for speedway. So 2 x camera bodies and 2 x suitable lenses. This safeguard (taught to me by Ipswich track photographer Steve Waller) stood me in good stead when my 40D died earlier in the year - I was able to switch to the spare body and keep going. This time round the lens on the camera was the "new" Tamron 70-300mm - this has had a lot of outings through the summer as I've been starting to get used to it and I'm still impressed. Even in poor light on saturday it performed well. (The "spare" lens in the bag was the Canon 70-200mm - the fact that it stayed in the bag is true testimony to the quality of the Tamron!)

Looking forward to the rest of the season now - remember - all my rugby stuff can be found over at The Harlow Saints Photo site - this is updated after each match.


Friday 27 September 2013

Frugal Friday...

Not much time for frugality this week, as I'm actively being frugal by working on a Friday! Clients of mine have a staff shortage in their office today, and as a result asked me very nicely if I could consider doing an additional day for them - well of course I could! It does seem odd, these days, to be working on what is usually my day off, but that's an extra days earnings that can whizz off to the mortgage overpayments in due course.

Talking of mortgage overpayments - if you have an old Northern Rock Mortgage that has now been taken over by Virgin Money - beware. Without fail, whenever I have called them previously to make a lump-sum overpayment, I've always been asked whether I want to use the extra money to reduce the future monthly payments, or to reduce the term. Naturally we've always confirmed that we want to reduce the term, as that is after all the whole point of throwing the extra money at the thing! Last time though, after making an extra payment, we received a letter confirming that our "new" monthly payment was £xxx - over £100 per month LESS than what we're meant to be paying. Now, fellow NR mortgage people will know that their products mostly have an overpayment limit of 10% of the outstsanding balance in each financial year - so by reducing the monthly payment, Virgin have effectively put us into a position where, this year, we will now go over our allowance, and will get charged for the privilege!  When I questioned this with them on the phone, I was told that it was a "mistake" that this had never been done in the past - presumably their question asked numerous times before about reducing the term was also a "mistake"?!

It won't surprise any of you in the least to know that we intend to take this further with them - MrEH is composing a letter as we speak - but I thought it worthy of mention as Virgin seem to have picked up a good amount of mortgage business over the past 12 months or so, and I can imagine a large number of people being affected. Had we not made that last lump-sum overpayment, we would never have known that we were set to go over our limits this year, so how many others must there be out there quietly making a standard monthly OP who have no idea that their provider is taking it upon themselves to change their terms?


Thursday 26 September 2013

I'm Glad...

...because we're getting a final few days of glorious sunshine before the colder, damper weather closes in.

...because shortly all the trees will be turning to all shades through gold and yellow through to deep red, and our town will, for a few weeks, look like this...

...because we've had a great summer packed with lots of fun stuff - and have lived up to our determination to "get out there and do things" rather than saying "We'll do that, one day"

...because we now have some quieter time coming up, when we can regroup, and get "home things" sorted out.

...because in a "tricky situation" I've had to deal with recently, I've had lots of quiet support and backup from some lovely friends, letting me know that they're aware, and that they're here for me.

...because I've realised, finally and definitely, that I'm comfortable in my own skin, that I don't want to be somebody different, and that if others don't like that, then "Sod Em!" As a very wise friend said "Just be yourself - everyone else is taken!"

...because we have "enough" - we're not rich, nor will we ever be, but we're not poor either. We have sufficient to do the things we want to do. We don't need things to make us happy - we share experiences instead.

...because we have more fun planned for the next few months - a Welliefest-Wedding to attend, rugby matches to play (MrEH) and Photograph (me), a trip to Devon, meetings with fab friends and the final speedway meetings of the season!

A fellow wedding guest...
...because we own our lovely cosy home, and if things go to plan in under five years it will be ALL OURS!

...because I've rediscovered the love of my camera this summer, and I'm looking forward to lots more picture-taking expeditions to come!

...because my Speedway team the "Ipswich Witches" have reached the League cup final AND the play-offs in our league this year. Will any silverware be Suffolk-bound? Who knows?

...because my working days are spent in a place that is - mostly, anyway - fun to be. We work hard, but we share a laugh and a joke too. After a good many years working in a completely different industry, being in an environment with no sniping or internal politics is refreshing in the extreme!

...Because I've rediscovered the pleasure of swimming, and of walking - I may have to commute by car daily but I don't have to commute ALL the way by car! You see interesting things when you're walking...

How about you - what are YOU glad about today?


Tuesday 24 September 2013

Seaside Wanderings...

On Sunday morning having packed up our tent and sleeping bags, wandered the campsite to collect a bag full of the proliferation of field mushrooms, and wandered down to Sheringham for an ice cream, we decided to head along the coast road to Hunstanton. I'd not been for years, and had long since forgotten what it was like - or perhaps it has changed, who knows? Either way, what we found wasn't to our tastes at all - I love tacky seaside places but this was beyond tacky - all chips, donuts, noise and concrete. Even the "Beach huts" are white UPVC with an acre of baking hot concrete between them and the concrete wall of the "Prom" - and looking more like tiny industrial units than anywhere you might want to spend a sunny afternoon! We wandered for a bit, feeling less than inspired. We sat and ate our lunch looking out to sea, and MrEH treated us to a cup of tea each and a bag of donuts. Looking in that direction, you could see the charm of the place - the sun glinting off the wet sand...

...and a fishing boat leaning drunkenly over waiting for the tide to come and get it.

Gulls everywhere - mostly Black Headed Gulls but with the occasional Common Gull thrown in as well. Far better mannered that the stereotypical seaside Herring Gull these - happy to grab anything that was thrown for them by passers-by but not diving in and stealing chips from the wrapping.

It didn't get any better. So we turned tail and walked back towards the car - and then we spotted it - the beach beyond the Prom...

...naturally we couldn't resist going to explore! The cliffs here are fascinating - three layers, or white chalk, red chalk, and sandstone.  This stretch of coast suffers badly from erosion, and looking at the make-up of the cliffs it's hardly surprising

We were also intrigued by the rock formations on the shore - look:

Odd, eh? We think it might be some sort of "Wave cut platform" following a bit of internet based research, but would be interested to  hear any more  theories. Either way it cuts quite an odd sight as you walk along.

On the whole we both agreed that there are beachy places in Norfolk that we would rather visit, but it was lovely to get one final beach walk in this summer - and yes, it did feel like summer again! Lovely!


Sunday 22 September 2013

Back in time...

Just back from another weekend away - our final one for some time you'll be relieved to say! Once again our tent was our "Bed & Breakfast" for the weekend, and we stayed on one of our favourite campsites, Breck Farm at Weybourne, which allows campfires. The reason for the trip was to take in the annual "1940's weekend" at the North Norfolk Railway - always great fun to see a whole load of Army, RAF & Navy types wandering round your campsite, and some of the most fantastic vintage vehicles pulling on and off the site too!

The effort that people go to with their costumes is just incredible - some of these guys go all over the country visiting these re-enactment events, others just turn out for this one as it's local to them. Either way though, it's a fantastic sight...

The steam trains add a nice authentic touch to things, the ticket to the event lets you ride up and down the line as much as you like so we got on at Weybourne (walking distance from the site) and travelled up the line to Holt - where there was a big display of military vehicles and vintage cars, before travelling back along to Sheringham where the bulk of the action takes place. There are trains coming and going all day giving a good opportunity for photos...

...Sheringham also has live music on throughout the day - and a beer tent!

Shame about the plastic glasses but I guess authenticity can only go so far!  Each station has it's "NAAFI" selling sandwiches (Spam, corned beef, or cheese!), cakes likes carrot cake and bread pudding, and teas, although we walked into the town at Sheringham and had fish & chips on the seafront - still authentic as these would have been available in wartime although we would probably have had to queue for a lot longer for our fish!

Nice to see some of the younger people in the town getting into the spirit of things too - this effort was definitely being taken in the spirit in which it was intended...


Friday 20 September 2013

Frugal Friday...

Last weekend was rather more "spendy" than frugal, and I suspect this one will be the same! On the plus side however, we came back from Ludlow Food Festival last week with lots of nice foody-goodies including lots of fruit and veg, and I already have plans for making the most of what we brought back! In a week where you KNOW you're going to be a parting with cash, it's important not to take your eye off the ball altogether. It's easy to slip into the mindset of thinking that as you've already spent "X", you might as well spend Y, & Z, as well! That got me thinking about the little "wins" we've had in the course of the last week.

Ludlow Castle - iPhone Panoramic
One of the things we brought back from Ludlow was a couple of packs of diced goat meat. Yes, you read that right - goat. It's nothing new to us as indian takeaways we've used in the past often offer up a "meat" version of their korma which is almost certain to be goat. It tastes a little like lamb, or mutton perhaps, same sort of beast, anyway, and the packs cost us £5 each as we bought the two of them. not the cheapest, but good quality, well cared for animals, which is as you know, our watch-word in such things. One of those packs has already made its way into the slow cooker with lots of veggies, a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes, some water, half a block of creamed coconut and some spices. 6 double-portions of goat curry later...! One was eaten for dinner in the week and the other 5 have been frozen to make quick ready-meals for chilly evenings. the other pack of goat has been frozen for the time being too until we have some more freezer space. We also bought sausages and bacon from one of our favourite suppliers who we only get the chance to visit once a year - MrEH has eaten two sausages from one pack already and the other four were cooked, sliced and mixed with Potatoes, leeks, peppers and some grated cheese. The bacon will be eked out, a few rashers here and a few rashers there - when food is this good you don't need a lot of it! I have plans for a potato and onion bake with some - proper winter weather food! I'm quite happy to spend a bit more on food when I can get good value out of it like this.

The food brought back from Ludlow, combined with what we already had, means our "regular" food spends came in at just over £4 this week - just milk for MrEH, mushrooms (can't go a week without them!) and a bag of peppers. For a change I went shopping without a list - well I hardly needed one just for those items, did I?! "That Supermarket" have sent me another nice wodge of vouchers so I'll be exploring using those next week.

On the subject of Food festivals etc we're starting to plan once again for our annual trip to Birmingham for the Good Food Show. Our accommodation was booked some time ago to get the benefit of cheap rates - we're paying £55 in total for the two nights we're staying. It's a budget hotel, but it will have everything we need - a bed, somewhere to wash, and other required facilities! it's also on the main bus routes both into Central Birmingham, AND out to the NEC, so is perfectly located. With two of us travelling the cheapest way to travel will be in the car - especially as we'll come back via somewhere to do some Christmas shopping, too. We're planning on making the most of the trip by meeting up with a big group of friends from the beer festival on the Saturday night which will be fabulous, and we'll attend the Food Show itself on the Sunday, as we usually do. The final piece of the jigsaw was the show tickets themselves - I've been holding off and holding off and my patience paid off - as earlier this week they appeared on the "Clubcard Boost" rewards site - cost to us £6.50 per ticket rather than the £23.25 online booking price! That is one heck of a saving!

I finalised arrangements for my travel to Devon next month, and managed to score one of the Money saving Expert / Red Spotted Hanky £10 credit codes as well, making one section of my journey down completely free of charge!

How's your week been? Spendy or save-y? If the latter, have you had a few small wins to make up for it?


Wednesday 18 September 2013


As my pals will tell you, I like a good list. Shopping lists, Things to do lists, Ta Da! Lists (those are like "To Do" lists only the opposite - you list the things you've already done so you can say "Ta Da!") Packing lists....if it came be written in list form, the chances are I will already have done so. One of my favourite lists though is one I first thought to write down at the end of 2011 - and is now a work in progress as we work through it:

Places to go and things to do...

1) The Lake District 
2) The Peak District
3) Go back to the Farne Islands to photograph the puffins again. 
4) Go back to Donna Nook to photograph the seals again
5) Go back to Dublin
6) Belfast
7) Spend more time exploring the bits of Cornwall we've not yet seen
8) Glastonbury - The tor and village, not the festival! 
8) Do a trip on the Settle to Carlisle railway in better weather!
9) Northumberland
10) Ardnamurchan Point
11) Dunnet Head (I've been there, Ben hasn't)
12) Lowestoft (Bizarrely Ben's never been there, either!) - We've both been to The Lizard already
13) Arran
14) Islay
15) Blackpool! (Yes, really, I've never been, but LOVE tacky seaside places!)
16) Anthony Gormley's Another Place - Crosby
17) Visit to the Red Arrows at RAF Scampton  
18) Orkney! 
19) Re-visit the National Railway Museum at York
20) Make a short visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
21) This one is for 2013 - get to an Airshow where the Vulcan is flying. Last chance to see her airborne.

Some of these have already been ticked off - the Lake district for example - we camped there over Easter 2012...

And the Farne Islands of course - fantastic place and we'll without question go back again...

...even though we did end up with just as many pictures of seals & Terns, as Puffins!

A month after that we found our way to Glastonbury village & Tor - a wonderful place which we loved. The weather could have been better though so that one might well get revisited!

A visit to RAF Scampton is not going to be on the cards now - it seems that they have decided that even though the Reds will remain housed there for the forseeable future, organised tours are not going to be reinstated. I did love my trip up to watch a practise though, and am planning more of the same!

On the subject of places we've been and loved - ORKNEY! Thanks to fabulous Fay a return trip is being planned there, too....same time next year probably!

Last but not least is the amazing Vulcan of course - although the urgency went out of this one to a degree when it was announced that they were hopeful of getting the funds in place to extend her flying time, we decided in any case we both wanted to see her so see her we would! In fact I've now had that pleasure twice - and she doesn't get any the less noisy!

I wonder how much more of our list we can get ticked off - or, come to that, how many more things we'll manage to add to it?!

Are you a list person? Maybe you have a traditional "Bucket list", or something a bit different. like us? I'd love to hear about your plans, anyway! (Nosy, that's me!)


Tuesday 17 September 2013


That's what this blogging business is all about really, isn't it - words. Pictures too, sometimes, but for most of us, it's all about the words. They're powerful things too, they can be used for good or for ill - a simple phrase can strike fear into the hearts of millions "I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany" (Neville Chamberlain, 1939) or can bring joy to just a single recipient - "I love you". A single, unprovoked and ill considered response from a friend, perhaps when they're having a bad day, can wreck trust forever, and irretrievably damage a friendship if not apologised for, while an offer of help or support can confirm that friends exist where we didn't realise they were.

Words (and punctuation!) used badly can completely alter the tone of what is meant...

Really? Can we?!

But used well they can create a picture in your mind of what the writer intended...


Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas

 Of course words are just part of it - a person can communicate their feelings perfectly well without words so long as one can see their face - the very reason for the current heated debate on the subject of the wearing of full-face veils for cultural reasons. That's a whole other minefield, and one which I don't intend to get into, but there is no question that words without expression can be problematic. Over the telephone tone of voice comes into play, but when we're working purely in "print" it's all too easy to be misconstrued.

Words. Treat them with respect, use them wisely. Use them sparingly. Above all - enjoy them - they're there to be played with and appreciated!


Friday 13 September 2013

Frugal Friday...

...or, "Using it up as we go along" - as that's what we've been doing so far this month. We've also been acquiring food for free, and adding value - more of that later.

With an eye to wanting to start stockpiling a little in preparation for the colder months, we decided that this month we'd look to minimise regular food spending, and look to use up some of the stuff that we have in the larder, fridge and freezers. I commented to MrEH a few weeks ago that we seem to have 2 freezers nearly full, but that I was struggling to find ingredients to make a meal! Of course when I thought about it a bit more I realised that it was me who was lacking inspiration rather than the contents of the freezers being at fault! In the past when these sort of uninspired moments have struck we'd have used it as an excuse to have gone and grabbed a takeaway, but these days it's a case of look again, find some ingredients, and see what can be done with them! On this occasion the ingredients I found were a pack of cooked lamb mince, a pot of roast tomato sauce, and a tub of cooked chickpeas. I have NO idea what I was thinking when I got those out - in my defence it was very last thing before I went to bed, maybe I was more tired than I realised!  In the event they came together with ease - an onion - half sliced into one pan and the other half finely chopped into another. Once softened and starting to brown the chickpeas went in with the finely chopped onion along with some spices - cumin, coriander and just a touch of smoked chilli flakes - and a handful of quartered cherry tomatoes. Into the other pan went a chunkily chopped green pepper, and the minced lamb, before the tomato sauce was added with a spoonful of extra garlic. Both were lightly seasoned with salt & pepper, and the tomatoey mix also had a generous dollop of home made mango chutney added to give a fruity kick. We had some thick slices of good bread alongside, to mop up the juices - it was delicious and, best of all, quick to prepare.

Another night, and another "use it up" meal - this time I turned to the contents of the fridge to decide what we'd eat. The veg basket yielded  a red pepper and the last of the cherry tomatoes, and elsewhere in the fridge I found a lump of chorizo and the last of a squeezy bottle of pesto. Now, a word about these "squeezy bottles" - I don't like them, and where things have the choice of a regular bottle or jar, or the squeezy one, I'll opt for the traditional one every time. We had this particular one as it was bought as part of a special offer at the Good Food Show - but it's proved my point. Handily though on this occasion it was the very thing that I don't like about them, the fact that it's close to impossible to get all the product out, that proved to be its advantage. A splash of warm water and a good shake and it delivered just the right amount of creamy pesto to dress two bowls of pasta. A simple meal, using items which needed to be used up, but a very tasty one nonetheless.

On Friday morning I noticed that the last of the block of very out-of-date cheddar was beginning to get properly past its best, and as I was fresh from reading Fay's lovely This Wee Lass Eats... blog, and I wanted some form of bread-like product for my lunch, scones were the obvious answer! I can assure you that they are every bit as easy as Fay makes them sound, and every bit as delicious too!

We'll continue with this using up of things for the rest of the month - but in the meantime there has been free food to be had too - the bag full of apples we brought back from Devon were cut up and stewed. The first lot of blackberries have been gathered, some loose frozen for future use, and some mixed in with some of the apples. Some more apples stewed with Cinnamon, allspice & sultanas were turned into a pie. I found a tree with some glorious ripe plums just begging to be picked, and we have harvested some more of our home-grown potatoes too - not quite "free" those, but we are looking like getting a decent return from our small investment in seed potatoes. We'll almost certainly go back for some more blackberries, then there will crab apples, hips, haws and sloes to gather too, and maybe even some more ordinary apples. We're crossing our fingers for hazel nuts this year too - and we've already been told there are lots of walnuts on our favourite tree. We're looking forward to Jellies and chutneys, Syrups and pickles.

Our shopping is paid for by way of a £150 per month transfer from our bank account into our "Clubcard Plus" account with Tesco Bank. We can use the card for this like a regular Clubcard, to earn points on shopping, but can also use it to take money out through cashpoints which can be useful. It pays a small amount of interest on our credit balance, too. Of course anything that we manage not to spend from that £150.00 mounts up nicely too, and that goes towards our spending money for the annual Hebrides trip - there's an incentive! In answer to those who bang the drum about how much the cost of groceries has increased over the last few years, we've had the Clubcard account for over 10 years, and the Direct debit has been set at that £150 level for the entire time. we spend less now on groceries than we did when we first opened the account - prices may have gone up, but with careful shopping it's possible for your spending not to do the same. Using every scrap of what you have is just part of that.


Thursday 12 September 2013

Waiting for news...

It's an exciting day today in the world of Red....and Blue, in fact! Today is the day that the Red Arrows find out who will be flying in which position for the 2014 display season, and at the same time their support/engineering chaps - known as the "Blues" due to the distinctive royal blue flying suits they wear during the season - will hear which of them have been assigned to the prestigious "circus" positions. "Circus" is the name given to the chaps who each have a specific plane/pilot to take care of - they fly in the hawks to and from the display sites (although not during the actual displays, they do take part in flypasts if these are conducted as part of transit rather than as specific events).

We know that these two chaps...

Synchro pair 2012

Ben Plank & Chris Lyndon-Smith - flying as the Synchro pair, Red 6 & 7 - seen here flying at Dartmouth Regatta last year, will be departing for pastures new - Planky's done rather well having had 4 years flying with the team, and seems hotly tipped to make a return in the future as Red 1 too. Pilots usually fly with the Reds for 3 years, so each year sees 3 new pilots come onto the team, however difficult circumstances over the past few years have dictated that the regular pattern has been broken. This year will see just 2 new arrivals from the shortlist of 6 that went forward earlier in the year during Excercise Springhawk - they will fly in the front half of the team - Reds 1 - 5. It's likely that one of the 2nd year pilots will move to Red 7, Synchro 2, with this year's Red 7, James McMillan - moving forward one space to become Synchro Leader.

Red 7 2013

With the exception of Red 1 - "The Boss" - who stays in his position for his three years with the team (and will also have flown with them earlier in his career also) everyone else finds out today which role they will be performing next year, and the 2 new pilots will also be announced to the public. The news is likely to be broken first on the Reds own website and I will edit this post later on to include the new lineup once the press release appears. You can also follow several of the chaps on Twitter - Red 4, Martin Pert, was tweeting the other night about a likely change in his Twitter name!

Is anyone else waiting for news today?


Tuesday 10 September 2013

And in the nick of time...

Well if you read SFT's blog yesterday I bet you can already guess where MrEH & I spent Sunday afternoon! Yes, in a slightly damp field near Duxford, that's where! We're not all that far from Duxford - about 30 miles and it's a straight journey up the motorway so we do try to head that way for their big airshows when we can. We'd missed the Spring show this year, so when we heard that displays for the Autumn show included the Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Memorial flight we were determined to go.

Now I have to make a small confession here - and admit that we have never EVER paid to go into a Duxford airshow. Along with a small crowd of others, instead we head to a field about a mile away from the end of the runway and watch from there - in aircraft terms a mile on the ground is next to nothing, and apart from the very small planes pretty much everything that displays comes directly over our heads at some stage...including these...

- that turns out to be Red 7 - James McMillan, identified with some help on Twitter from Red 4.

We arrived at Duxford just ahead of the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight's planned display time - and instantly found ourselves huddled under an umbrella in POURING rain. Not ideal, and having driven through broadly similar weather on the way up, we did briefly wonder whether we were wasting our time. Thankfully the rain stopped, and clouds lifted, and the BBMF - who'd clearly been waiting for a break - flew in. Great to see them as always - although due to the delay in them appearing their display was curtailed somewhat - something that Spitfire Pilot Andrew Millican was clearly not best pleased about judging by his later comments. Shortly after another big warbird - B17 Bomber Sally-B - a regular at this show and always great to see. I got some more decent photos of her too as the light had improved a bit.

I was very keenly looking forward to seeing the French equivalent of the Red Arrows - Patrouille De France - the first time I've seen them display and we weren't disappointed. They fly an 8-ship formation, and it must be said that their red/white/blue painted Alpha jets are nothing like as eye catching as the Reds Hawks. Some of the formations flown are similar to those we're used to, while others, like this...

...are those that make them stand out as "something different". We commented that their precision did not seem to be quite as marked as we'd expect, and although initially I wasn't sure that this was the case, seeing RAFAT display very soon afterwards proved this to be the case. They make far more use of the smoke trails than our chaps do - the Reds have quite limited amounts of smoke with each Hawk carrying dye enough for 5 minutes of white smoke and a minute each of red & blue, as a result they have to be extremely precise about switching on, and off. Several times during the PdF display MrEH noted that a lone jet was still trailing smoke some time after it appeared that it should have been shut off. Regardless however, they put on an excellent show, and it was a pleasure to watch another of the world's military aerobatic teams in action.

The light began falling away at this point so we contented ourselves with drinking tea from the flask (well of course!) and eating Jammie Dodgers while various planes some of which I recognised, some of which I didn't, flew overhead. The SIX Spitfires roaring in overhead was quite something to see, and hear, Duxford loves its WWII planes and you can always guarantee plenty of Spitfires, Hurricanes and similar. Then the rain started falling - looking across the countryside we could see it was going to be heavy so we grabbed everything and made a dash for the car - made it just in time as the heavens opened! There was only about half an hour to go before the Red Arrows were due to leave Scampton and a lot of folk clearly decided that there was no way their show was going to go ahead - we, being the stubborn types we are (and having a flask that still had tea in it...) stuck it out though. Gradually the rain stopped, and it started brightening a little...take-off time from Scampton came and went with no news on Twitter, which we took to be a good thing, and eventually, in the nick of time, the sun broke through!

...Better than that, the weather conditions meant that the light was absolutely fantastic and the smoke trails more spectacular even than usual...

The show itself was another cracker - with the flat open countryside all around you can see the formation approaching from a good way out, and there's nothing to block your view of the run-ins so you get plenty of warning of each manoeuvre and (in theory, anyway!) time to set up for it. I got my wished for shot of the 5/4 split...

...and a different angle of one of the breaks with spectacular smoke trails...

Finally, at the end of the display the guys formed up for a final fly-through - on went the smoke...

What a fantastic final view of the team for 2013! 


Sunday 8 September 2013

Things that make me happy...

This post was inspired when I read This Post from Dreamer at Living a Slow and Simple Life earlier in the week. I don't use Pinterest, so thought I'd share some of my things which make me happy as a random list on this blog post.

Spending a lunchbreak sitting under a tree with a good book...

Spotting something beautiful like this... I walk along the road. And having a camera, or at the least the camera on my phone, handy to take a photo of it. I love how good camera-based phones are now - the iPhone is fab for anything that doesn't require zooming in - but that in itself is good as it encourages me to move to get the picture I want, rather than taking the lazy option of just zooming in...

Going for a walk somewhere I've been many times before and finding something amusing like this, that I'd never spotted before...

Walking, and swimming - I've been doing increasing amounts of both and they're forms of exercise that really suit me. I've always struggled with fitting walking into my day, but I've created a longer walking section to my commute simply by parking the car a couple of miles from the office - this has an additional advantage of cutting the mileage on the car by 4 miles each day, too! The two things have one thing in common too which is that they give me time to think, or time to think of nothing, depending on what's needed that day.

My home. It's not big, fancy or impressive. Nobody will say "Wow!" as they drive up, or "You have a beautiful home" as they enter, but it's ours, it suits us, it's cosy and comfortable and - thanks to the overpayments we've been making on the mortgage it's VERY NEARLY 50% OURS!!!

Planning our next Hebrides trip...

Butterflies - there has been SO many around this year and they are just so beautiful!

Spending time with friends and family as we did down in Devon the other week - a chunk of our family will be heading off to work abroad for three years later in a couple of months - we'll miss them hugely so getting the chance to spend time with them all over that weekend  was extra-special.

Friends. The ones I know I can tell anything, be absolutely open with, text when I'm in a grump about something silly or ecstatic about something fantastic and they will just grump or cheer alongside me. And, the best bit? They know I'll do exactly the same for them when it's needed.

Crisps leaves underfoot and all the beautiful colours of Autumn.

Fresh snow in winter, and wonderful frost patterns...

The sudden lush green-ness and life of spring.

...and the warmth and sunshine of summer.

So many more things too - I bet I will have no sooner posted this than I'll be thinking of more! How about you then - what makes YOU happy?


Friday 6 September 2013

Frugal Friday...

Holiday 2007....Loch Carnan - South Uist
I was thinking back the other day, about how far we've come since we started all this frugality. It was 2007...
- I'd just bought a new car. Well, I say "I'd bought" - but in fact I owned about 25% of it with the remainder really belonging far more to the bank, who'd loaned me the money to buy it...
- I was earning close to double what I earn now...
...but I wasn't happy.
- I had just had the most miserable 12 months imaginable at work, and had had my first encounter with a black dog that I now know will trot at my heels for ever more. Mostly it's rather well-trained (I'm quite good with dogs) but sometimes it just sits down a refuses - point blank - to budge.
- We had been talking for the previous 5 years about overpaying the mortgage, but had never got around to it somehow.
- I had a conversation with a friend's husband about the merits of overpaying, and MoneySavingExpert among other things...

I still have the car, but almost everything else has changed. I'm no longer in contact with the friend whose husband gave us the advice and sat down with his spreadsheet to actually SHOW us, in black & white, what differences we could make. In some ways I quite miss her, in others I know that we had become very different people to the pair of mad Queen fans who'd met in 1992, and played huge parts in each others lives until 2010. I am hugely grateful to her husband - Kevin - for the fact that he was responsible for us "seeing the light" on all things financial, and maybe that's the best memory of all of a faded friendship.

The car is all mine - and has been since 13 months after I drove it off the forecourt, as the loan to pay for it was shifted 17 months early. When we bought MrEH's car second hand a few years later it was done with cash which we'd saved, and we're adamant that the only finance we will ever take for anything again will be of the 0% variety!

We now save set amounts every month to budget for things like birthday and christmas presents for the family, and our annual holiday. We also budget for "fun" - meaning that things like our trip to Orkney at easter, and upcoming visit to Scotland to see good friends get married, in wellies, in a forest, can be paid for up front.

I'm no longer in a stressful job, and the nightmare former employer is a distant memory. (In every way actually - they no longer exist at all. In some ways it was quite distressing to see a depot which had during the time I'd worked there always been a profit-making flagship branch, slip into loss after loss, before finally the whole of my old division of the company was sold off for a fraction of its proper worth. I've no doubt that the management are probably still making employees lives hell elsewhere, while pretending to the world that they wonderful - "Investors in People" award anyone? The truth is, your employees will say anything you like about you if you ensure that they're too scared to do otherwise!) I now earn roughly half the amount I did then, but a good part of that is as a result of the fact that I work less hours - and my work/life balance is back to being where it should.

We've been overpaying that Mortgage for 5 years now - half the time we've been living in the flat. We're also rapidly approaching having cleared exactly half of it - hurrah! When we changed to a new mortgage deal a few years back we reduced the term by 5 whole years, while barely changing our standard monthly payment at all. Since then our continued overpayments mean that we are now scheduled to knock ANOTHER 5 years off it, and we're still working to increase that further. Whatever we do down the line, having the mortgage gone will give us the freedom to make the best choices for us, and also means we will have paid an astonishing amount less interest than we were originally due to!

Holiday 2013 - Howmore, South Uist
When we get extra money these days, or make a saving on a regular expense that we have budgeted for, we don't fritter it away, we set it aside into savings, or pay it straight against the mortgage so we know it's working for us.  We use a credit card, but we make it work for us by earning us cashback. I can't remember the last time our bank accounts went overdrawn. We buy good quality, food, locally produced through choice, and yet still spend less in a month than many households do in a week. We shop seasonally and use Farmers Markets, farm shops, and markets where we can. We cook from scratch - life may be too short to stuff a mushroom, but it's definitely long enough to peel & mash a potato! We take a fortnight's holiday in the Hebrides each year, and lots of other weekends away through the year - but they are paid and budgeted for in advance, we don't have our fun on borrowed money. For those weekends away we stay in a tent, not a hotel, and eat food cooked on our camping stove, rather than looking for a restaurant.

I've learnt a lot about myself too - and gained some seriously good friends along the way. I've learnt that I enjoy the challenge of living simply from day to day, and that I don't need a constant stream of "stuff" in my life to make me happy. I've learnt that I'm quite happy to do lovely things with value or budget foodstuffs, and that a cheaper supermarket doesn't mean cheap & nasty meals. I know that I'd love to challenge myself to live entirely without shopping in the Supermarkets like Team Pugh are doing, but where we live it's simply not practical, and that's OK. I now know that not only am I good at the challenge of making our money stretch, I enjoy it too, and will be happy to keep it up for as long as it takes!


Wednesday 4 September 2013

Meanwhile, up on the hillside...

Yes, once again I staggered up the bloody great hill overlooking Dartmouth to take in some of the air displays. It was warm enough to make walking up a hot, red-faced, sticky business, but knowing it as I do I figured it would be less warm by the time I reached the top, so I took layers! (I also took a fruit bun and a pot of pineapple chunks, and very nice they were too!) Reached the top in gorgeous sunshine, so settled down to wait while aimlessly taking photos of surrounding countryside...

...and others looking down into the town...

I watched the Red Arrows "Red 10" fly in and land at the Britannia Royal Naval College in his little Squirrel helicopter, and I also watched their band marching up and down playing (could just about hear them too!) - don't think that was anything to do with Mr 10's arrival though - think they were just practising! And eventually, after a short while of pleasant sun-basking, I watched The Blades who were the first airborne event of the day! As ever they were excellent - it was the first time I'd seen them down in Dartmouth and on reflection I think their display lends itself slightly more to being seen from the ground than from up a bloody great hill. Being that high up did mean I got some shots like this one though...

...If you look carefully you can even see the people standing down there looking up! I do love the different perspective you get on an event from a completely different angle - some bits were more impressive than the usual - they do a move where they basically spiral in the air, essentially around one wingtip - very clever and I always find myself wondering how on EARTH you make a plane do that! No pictures of that, but quite a lot of other bits of the display...

After them came the Typhoon - a proper "boys showing off" display this - lots of noise and the glow from the jets looking all the more impressive from the level I was at.

It was at about this stage that I started to notice that the sun had gone in, and in fact, horror of horrors, there were CLOUDS appearing. Not the pretty white fluffy ones that had been around previously, but the sort of heavy grey ones that meant that the Typhoon got to finish his display with the rather natty trick of just heading up into the sky and disappearing....quite odd, that! Also quite alarming given that the Red Arrows were due to be displaying in just 30 minutes! We waited, much nervous conversation broke out on the hillside about the weather and what it might mean, and it was looking certain that we weren't going to get a "full" display, but instead it was likely to be the same "Rolling" show we'd seen at Dunsfold the week before until suddenly - at 6.25pm, the cloud lifted slightly, and some chinks of sunlight appeared....we held our breath, and then, there they were!

We found out afterwards that until literally seconds before they arrived with us, it was going to be the rolling display, Red 10 had actually introduced them with his usual "Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome the Royal Air Force Aerobatic team for 2013 - The Red Arrows!" and then added that he had JUST had confirmed that they would be doing the full show! Sadly though that brief chink was as good as it got, and by two-thirds of the way through visibility had again fallen dramatically. To set the scene for the photographically minded - at one point I checked my settings and realised that in spite of using ISO800, F4, I was getting speeds of just 1/200th/sec - rather slow, to say the least, for photographing fast jets!  Quite how they completed the display we haven't a clue - it must have been right on the boundaries of the conditions they can fly in I should imagine. The show was as good as ever though - faultless throughout and great fun to watch, even is photographing it was a bit challenging! In the end I opted to concentrate on trying to get some "different" shots including the local countryside, rather than close-ups and high speed action that I'd usually focus on from that vantage point.

Within a few minutes of the end of the display the rain had started falling - a sign of just how close we'd come to the show being aborted, and I only hope they got an idea of quite how delighted everyone was that they had managed to give us such a great 21 minutes of action!

My final sight of The Reds for this year will be from my usual "field with a view" near Duxford on Sunday afternoon - so please send all sunshine in that direction, if you would!