Friday 29 November 2013

Frugal Friday...

Frugal Clothing...part 1

Something we seem to hear constantly in the world of frugal blogging is people insisting that they "can't afford" to buy new clothes. Mostly of course, what they actually mean, is that they are choosing to spend their money elsewhere - by overpaying on the mortgage, or putting money aside into savings each month (or for the very lucky, both!). Of course there are those out there who are genuinely struggling to such an extent that any new clothing purchase has to be carefully considering and painstakingly saved for - and then bought second hand at a charity shop, to boot (or pair of boots, perhaps!). That's a different matter entirely and you know already my take on the difference between voluntary Frugality, and genuine struggle.

For those who just want to know how they can go about updating their wardrobe, or buying new things, in the most cost effective way, and without spending money on things that simply end up hanging in the wardrobe unworn, read on. I'm enlisted the help of the lovely Singlegirl and for the purposes of this post, you can consider us your Trinny & Susannah - although in fairness she could sit on my shoulders and we'd STILL not be as tall as Trinny, I think!

On the subject of Trinny and Susannah, embarrassing it may be but one thing SG and I definitely agree on is that they do talk amazing sense when it comes to body shape and dressing to suit it. Their Body Shape Bible is a must for your bookshelf if you want to crack the mystery of "What Not To Wear" and can often be found floating around in charity shops for pennies, too. Take as an example those of us with, well, let's say quite a lot of goods on (or indeed IN) our balcony - ever wondered why you put on an item with a high neck and take it straight off again? Or worse, wear it but feel frumpy, lumpy and ill at ease? High necks (or worse - Polos - SG threatened to hibernate until spring when someone told her that Polo necks were a must-have fashion item for winter 2013!) simply turn the area from above your waist to your chin into one huge shelf - robbing you of all definition! Leave them on the shelf ladies and let others work that look - you can do better! Once you crack secrets like this, it will go a long way towards making sure that the items in your wardrobe all suit and flatter you, regardless of how much they cost. You could put on the most expensive garment in the world - if it's not in a style that suits your body, you'll look like you're wearing a sack. That friend who ALWAYS looks fab whatever she wear? That's nothing to do with how much she spends - it's all to do with her having done her homework and ALWAYS wearing clothes that suit her figure and shape!

So - where should you spend and where should you save?  Well we think - buy cheap and replace often: Basic knickers - grey undies are NOT a good look. Primark do great packs of side seam free hi-legs for £4.50, or you can spend a bit more on M&S if that floats your boat. T-Shirt style tops, particularly those in Black or White. Black fades to an unattractive grey, and white does its damndest to go the other way. M&S are a good bet here too - they do basic tops and vests in a range of necklines for around £8 - you can often pick these up even cheaper in their outlet stores too. Again for simple vests Primark are a great alternative - I love their lace-trimmed vests in a whole rainbow of colours for wearing under v-necked jumpers. Flat pumps for summer - now SG won't be seen dead in these but I'm not a heels-girl and so live and die in pumps through the summer - Primark again - around £5. They are no better and no worse than any other of their type but a couple of pairs will see you through the warmer weather happily enough.

On to the areas where - as your Mum or Gran probably said "Buy Cheap, Buy twice" - winter coats - spending a bit more here on a good quality coat will mean you can get several years wear out of it - so a supermarket purchase for £35 will probably do you for one winter, whereas a "better" brand costing £80 will maybe do you for three and will hang better as well - you do the maths! I will always spend a bit more on tailored trousers for work - I have a pair that I bought YEARS ago which are still perfectly good, hang beautifully and I love wearing - the fabric is nice and the cut is good. Footwear too - trainers if you wear them, by all means shop at an outlet store to save a few pennies but buy what fits and supports your feet, and don't just base the decision on which are cheapest.  Bra's - the key here is that different manufacturers make bras in subtly different shapes - and once you find the one that suits your boobs, then stick with it. For me it's Freya - their stuff is just fab for me, and so I search out bargains (usually in Debenhams sales) to bring the £30-ish price tag down to half that, or less. If you've got "a lot up top" though - expect to have to pay a little bit more to keep the girls happy - otherwise in a few years they will get their own back by tripping you up! 

Look after your clothes too - coats need dry-cleaning to avoid shiny patches, and the life of boots and shoes can be massively extended by popping them in to have new heels and soles put on - if you're spending £50 or more on a pair of boots then it makes sense to make them last as well as you can. SG points out that bobbles on jumpers are a real no-no and can be easily removed with an ordinary disposable razor - CAREFULLY! 

So now we've covered where to spend and where to save, how do you achieve getting the wardrobe you want at a cost you can work with? Pop back NEXT friday to find out...

Robyn & Singlegirl

Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Age of the Train?

Over the years, train travel has come in for a fair bit of stick from the British Public. We all know why we don't want a "British Rail sandwich" and agree that the "Age of the Train" was indeed the root of the problem. Leaves on the line cause annual hilarity, and the wrong kind of snow has everyone eye-rolling. In spite of that though, I have to say that I believe that the single best way to travel around the UK is, in most cases at least, on the train.

"But!" I hear you cry "What about the car?" - well yes, granted the car does have a certain "door-to-door" convenience about it, and if you need to take large, heavy stuff from A - B then it may suit you better, but assuming it's just you, your MP3 player and a rucksack or case, when you take the train once you get to the station, someone else does all the work while you sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery! Oh, and WHAT scenery you get, too! From the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland to the South Devon coast, railways lines will give you views you just won't get from any other mode of transport. You see, mostly when building roads, it's cheaper to divert them around tricky obstacles - cars cope easily with twisty-turny roads, so there is little harm in making them that way. Trains are different though - so when they built the railways they tended to try to keep them more or less straight, and going through, or over was usually the building method of choice. This often leaves trains travelling quite literally through the middle of nowhere, meaning that there are great swathes of countryside that you will only see from a train - or on foot.

St Pancras Station - worth getting a train to see!
Train journeys give you something else too - time. Take your laptop and earphones and catch up on a downloaded TV programme you'd missed. Listen to music, Read a magazine or a good book, write a letter or take a notebook and write a blog post, even! (Yes, that was exactly what I did, this very post was drafted on a train!) For the duration of your journey, if you want , your seat and little section of table can become your very own private world, with only what you choose to bring into it.

Don't underestimate all the interesting things you might see from a train either - stations in themselves are often fantastic buildings. St Pancras in London is of course one of the best known examples of this but there are many others too. Many country stations have the most beautifully tended gardens, and every time I go through Templecombe I wonder about the sculptures scattered around the place. You get "snapshots" of places from trains - glimpses of Edinburgh on the approach to Waverley Station, a surprisingly good perspective of Wembley Stadium on the way in to Euston, a wonderful view across to Bath, a look back at the history of Manchester from the many mill buildings clustered around the line... There are other conveniences too - toilets which provide a source of relief AND a workout for your balance - only a fool would try "hovering" in a train loo, surely?! The Buffet car, or better still the "trolley" - serving surprisingly good tea - I sometimes treat myself on a longer journey. The Scotrail Sleeper provides decent cooked meals at a not unreasonable price - and you get to sit and eat in a proper dining car too. Of course that being said, one of the best things about train travel is that you can always bring your own packed lunch and nobody turns a hair!

Next time you've contemplating a UK based adventure of some sort, rather than just taking the car, why not investigate travel by train for at least part of your journey? Just imagine what you might see!


Sunday 24 November 2013

A saturday adventure with some VERY noisy friends!

What a lovely bright sunny day yesterday was! So nice when you get a winter day like that - and i was determined to make good use of it. We popped over to the Airfield Market in the morning - got our bits of shopping and then repaired to the cafe for a well needed cuppa. As we were drinking and chatting I heard the distinctive sound of a jet engine starting up and popped outside to see one of their resident Hawker Hunters getting ready to go out...

We finished our tea and headed home as MrEH was off to rugby - and after not very much thought I made up a flask with more tea, grabbed a quick bite to eat, picked up my mini-stepladder to assist with seeing over the runway fence, and headed back over to the airfield.

First to make an appearance was the Hertfordshire Air Ambulance - based at North Weald and recently back from it's annual overhaul, I presume it was just arriving back from a shout -

- nice as it is to see it airborne there is always the knowledge that it usually means that someone's life has been in danger somewhere. Fairly soon after that the Hunter went out again - having got the nice shot of the back in the morning I was perfectly positioned to get a head-on view this time as it made its way to the main runway...

...before taking off into the Essex skies...

Beautiful isn't she - sleek, graceful, and if I look HALF that good when I reach 58 years old I'll be happy! Next up was one half of the Gnat Display team - always a pleasure to see these up and about and we're lucky to have them based locally.

This one had apparently been undergoing maintenance for the past few days and wasn't originally planned to be flying today. She streamed her 'chute on landing, as did the Hunter when she made her return...

Last out for the day was one of the several Jet Provosts based over at the airfield - the pilot of this one gave a cheery wave as he set off...

...and after all that lot I retired happily to the car, drank my tea and thawed out! Lovely to have somewhere so close by to keep my "eye in" through the winter months with aviation stuff!


Friday 22 November 2013

Frugal Friday...

These days it seems that there is organisation after organisation requesting that we had over some of our hard-earned to support their particular cause. Most recently it was Children in Need - everywhere you looked or listened on the BBC was full of bears wearing eyepatches!  Now although CiN is a wonderful cause, I'm not saying otherwise, it's not one I support actively, so I employed my usual "Quid in a bucket" approach. There are other charities that I do support actively - Hospices for example, particularly our wonderful local St Clare Hospice who were so amazing to both my Great Aunt when Bob was ill, and also to a good friend Sean who sadly lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, St Clare made Sarah's last days so much more comfortable not only for her, but also for Sean & their children. I use their charity shop regularly and it's one of the places I donate unwanted items to as well, for onward sale. The RSPB get a regular monthly membership donation from us, and we never pass an RNLI tin without dropping a contribution in. The Air Ambulance too - so many people don't realise that this incredible service is kept airborne thanks to donations.

Gadwall, RSPB Rye Meads April 2010
For those on a tight budget, donating to charity isn't always easy. I've lost count of the number of friends I've heard worrying themselves silly over the constant demands from the children's school for donations to this cause or that - no £5 doesn't seem like a lot, but to some people that represents the money they have to spend on bread & milk for the week. So with that in mind, how about looking at some ways of donating for a very small spend, or even cash-free? Even a donation which costs you absolutely nothing will be welcomed by many charities and organisations.

Mum and I routinely put together a box for our local homeless shelter each Christmas - the shelter opens from 23rd December to 1st January, proving warmth, shelter and decent food for those seeking its help.  I asked a few years ago whether they could use some basic toiletries and thought I was going to get a hug they were so grateful - it was explained that not only can the users of the centre use donations like that while they are there, they are able to take a basic toiletries pack away with them to help with the tricky business of keeping clean & decent when every spare penny is better spent on food. Since then we have expanded to include things like a nice box of biscuits, gloves, hat and scarves, and books & magazines. If you fancy doing something similar, then to give you an idea, that supermarket whose name we don't mention currently have in their value range -
Twin pack toothbrushes for 18p
Toothpaste for 25p
Deodorant - rolls-ons for 30p, sprays for 41p
5 x disposable razors for 15p
Bars of soap for 15p
Poundland and 99p shops often have multi-packs of antibacterial gels, lip balms and handy-packs of tissues.
Packs of multi-purpose wipes come in handy for a quick freshen up for someone with no access to running water other than a public toilet which might be quite grotty.
As we buy the items a few at a time, it has very little impact on our weekly budget, but makes all the difference to someone with nothing.

Heron,  RSPB Rye Meads April 2010
Another way of giving for a small spend is the Food Banks. There has been a lot in the press about these recently, so we're all familiar with the concept, and it's getting easier and easier to give with collection bins in many major supermarkets. I blogged about it earlier in the year - hereIf you can spare £3 then you could put together something like I did there. £2 could buy some soup, rice, crackers and tinned veg. £1 would get a couple of packs of crackers and a jar of jam - or potentially Breakfast for a family for a couple of days. Even a single one of those items would be of help to someone, and most of us could spare 14p for a tin of potatoes couldn't we?

How about giving by means of doing something you'd do anyway?
- Tesco give charity donations in exchange for uses of their cashpoints, so if you need to withdraw money, why not do it via one of their machines rather than another provider's? (Their name is mentioned there you will note as it's in connection with something which costs THEM money!)
- If you're looking for a new top, skirt or jacket, how about looking in a charity shop rather than the high street?
- Got some clothes you're bored with, or don't fit? Bundle them up and take them to your local charity shop.
- Wanting some new reading materials? Rather than grabbing a £4.99 paperback in the supermarket with the weekly shop, head to that charity shop again and get 10 books for the same money, AND donate to a good cause at the same time!
- You know that box on the children's sponsor forms? That one that says "Gift Aid It?" with space for a tick? Well if you're a UK taxpayer - TICK IT! Read all about the Gift Aid scheme here

Kingfisher -  RSPB Rye Meads April 2010
Finally there is always the option of volunteering or donating your time. That Homeless Shelter I mentioned earlier is currently looking for volunteers to cover shifts over Christmas, and I bet there is one near you desperate for help too. Then there are independent charity shops needing help with sorting donations, nature reserves wanting assistance with  basic maintenance and get the idea? If you have a wool-stash and the ability to knit then how about knitting some little toys or baby clothes that can be sold at a local school's Christmas fair? A friend of mine gives time to work with her local Transitions groups, and we've volunteered with the local Conservation Volunteers in the past, and will probably do so again this winter.

There are many ways of giving beyond the obvious "Quid in a tin" - just think laterally!


Thursday 21 November 2013

Happy Birthday Mum!

Mum and Dad at their engagement party (1960 - I think)

My lovely Mum is 70 today. She doesn't look it, in fact, she doesn't even look anything close to it! (Naturally I'm very much hoping that these are genes I might have inherited!).

Born during wartime, Mum was evacuated, first to Yorkshire, then when her Mum, my Nan, wasn't happy there, they went to stay with family in Oxford. Old loyalties clearly linger as to this day Mum still supports the dark blue of the Oxford team in the Boat Race! They then returned to Walthamstow, East London, where she stayed until moving out to Essex in 1998 - a huge change but one which Mum always says she doesn't regret even for a second - this city girl is now very much at home in a more rural setting!

Mum would probably tell you that she's never really done anything, or achieved anything - but I (and the rest of the family I suspect) would have to beg to differ there. She learnt Welsh years ago, simply because she had a penfriend living in North Wales and wanted to be able to converse more easily with her. She taught herself to draw, and produced some really rather lovely efforts in pastels and even watercolours - before her own high standards lead her to give up as she didn't feel she was "good enough". She followed a family tradition of learning to sew and indeed earned her living like that when I was small - working on piecework rates from home for a garment manufacturer. She drove forward a family fundraising appeal for Guide Dogs for the Blind. This started when I was about 8 wanting to raise money to pay for the upkeep of a Guide Dog puppy - a sum of £250. By the time she gave up fundraising some years later that original aim had translated into thousands of pounds, all raised by selling used postage stamps which we persuaded people to donate, organising bring & buy sales, and persuading Dad and I to go out collecting with a "Guy" for bonfire night - something which all on its own contributed several thousand pounds of our total. Whether it was painstakingly sorting through sacks and sacks of stamps, or encouraging me in "sponsored something or anothers" - she gave it her all. When I learned to drive in 1991 seeing that I could do it was the confidence boost she needed to follow suit and do the same - something which absolutely revolutionised her life. (I did get the edge though - passing my test first time when Mum needed a second attempt!) I'm very proud that I inspired her to go for it! She'd tell you that she can't cook too - but I remember some fabulous meals when I was growing up - she makes toad in the hole far better than mine, and her roast potatoes are honestly the best I've eaten.

It always make me smile when you hear people talking about Pensioners knowing nothing about technology - Mum's a huge fan of all things techie, and got an iPhone before I did! If I need to know a short cut to something on the computer keyboard, or how to make the iPhone do something in particular, she's usually my first port of call as there's a more than decent chance she'll know the answer. Twitter and Facebook are regular haunts of hers too - I love seeing pictures she tweets from their walks! She hates being bored and can think of nothing worse than being stuck in the house staring at the TV - most days she and my Dad can be  found out for a walk somewhere across East Anglia or even down on the Kent Coast. She's a fine advocate of the "Easy Maintenance" garden as well as she loves looking at the garden but hates having to spend masses of time weeding, pruning and fiddling with it - so dense planting that the weeds don't show much in is the name of the game!

Mum is braver than she thinks - when my Dad had his heart attack and subsequent bypass operation earlier in the year she held up and stayed strong when so many other people would have crumpled into a heap. She's been through a lot, and come out the other side smiling. She knows masses of stuff about a lot of things, and is the person whose opinion I trust almost beyond all others.

Happy Birthday Mum - love you! xxx

Sunday 17 November 2013

Looking Back...February & March

February is usually a quiet month for us - hence choosing it for "Frugal February" (Well, that and the fact that had we chosen another month calling it anything "February" would have been a bit odd...) - all so often it's cold, and damp, and snowy and icy, and there is little incentive to go running off around the countryside doing things. So our entertainment was taken at a more steady pace, and locally too - we had a lovely walk at the local RSPB Reserve...

...and there were one or two rugby matches as well, when the pitches weren't frozen solid, that is...

and then before we knew it we were into March and it was time to start thinking about our first proper adventure of the year - our long awaited trip up to Orkney to see Fay and the Flowers clan. The journey was half the fun on this one I think - first going up, from meeting a friend in the pub at Euston for drinks, before going to get on the Scotrail Sleeper up to Aberdeen, then another train through the north of Scotland to Thurso. When we arrived the weather wasn't the fact our first 20 minutes there was spent in the station, sheltering from this...

...thankfully it dried up, and the sun emerged in time for us to explore the town before heading through to Scrabster to get the ferry. We've visited Thurso before, but not for some years, and strangely enough had never found our way onto the beach there before.

Orkney itself I have posted on before - we absolutely loved it and had a fantastic few days, from exploring the Ring of Brodgar to cosy nights snuggled in front of the fire chattering, with dogs curled up on laps. The journey back was adventure-ful too - our first flight in a small plane - 27 seats I think it had - from Kirkwall back to Aberdeen again, and with British Airways too - all our previous "above ground" travel has been with budget airlines so the novelty of being offered a cup of tea at 30,000* feet was quite good!

By the time we got home it was April...which I'll look at another time!


*Altitudes are approximate ;-)

Friday 15 November 2013

Frugal Friday...

Did anyone see Martin Lewis' Christmas special show in the week? If not then you'll still be able to catch it via the ITV player for a while yet - it's well worth a watch.

One point Martin made which he has stressed before was that each and every year people end up in debt to pay for Christmas - presents, food, travel etc can all mount up, and yet, as Martin says, it shouldn't really take us by surprise - we do after all have a full year's notice of the next one! He also made some very valid points regarding the buying of unnecessary presents - you know, the people you buy for because they always buy for you, with no idea what they might want, or even like...

We already budget through the year for our holiday, insurances and car costs, so for us it was just a short step to start budgeting for Christmas-related stuff too. Our annual trip to Birmingham to meet up with friends and attend the Good Food Show is an associated cost - we usually do a fair bit of our Christmas shopping at the show, so for the past 12 months we've been putting money aside each month to cover the expenditure. We travel up to Birmingham by car, which means we can combine the journey back with some Christmas shopping, and our (budget) hotel is paid months in advance so accommodation costs won't spring a nasty shock to our finances either.  We also have a general "presents" savings account which will cover the vast bulk of what we spend on presents for Mums, Dads, Niece &  Nephews. When children in the family hit the age of 18 they get "proper" presents bought for them for the last time - beyond that age a token "little something to unwrap" is bought.

Another thing Martin touched on in his programme was the vast amount that gets spent on food for the Christmas period, and how so often people buy a "better" brand than they usually would, feeling that it will be better, or more appropriate to the occasion. Almost more shocking is the amount of this food that will, a few days after Christmas, be finding its way into people's wheelie bins and from there into landfill. If you're buying a whole turkey, then I do feel it's worth buying a free range and preferably local one - not only can you sit down to your Christmas dinner with a clear conscience, but there is a likelihood that the meat will taste better than a supermarket mass-produced frozen one too. Whichever sort you're buying, plan ahead what you're going to do with the leftovers from the bird - whether that's turkey sandwiches on boxing day, or a big pot of turkey curry to be divided up and popped in the freezer. If you buy tins of biscuits or sweets out of habit then think twice - particularly if the less popular ones always get wasted! Why not buy a couple of packets of favourite biscuits that everyone likes and pop them into an airtight tin or box? Look past the branded options too - I know lots of people who swear that "Value" Jaffa Cakes and Bourbons taste nicer than the branded (expensive) options.

Maybe you're skipping off on holiday over the festive period? If that's the case then you might not need to think too much about buying food to feed an army, but a holiday in itself needs planning and careful budgeting, for most of us at least. Mr EH and I are hoping to get away next New Year for an extra Hebrides trip - and as a result we have already started planning for all the associated costs - only if we can manage to put the money we'll need for it aside by savings from our regular income and expenditure will we be able to go, so planning ahead is vital for us. Another thing about planning ahead is that you can often take advantage of things like Boots Christmas Shopping evenings - when if you spend £50 or more they give you 1,200 advantage card points. You could use it to buy christmas presents, or, as I've just done, buy essentials that you will use anyway through the year  - being able to get my favourite deodorant on offer was an added advantage, as was the total of 2,166 advantage points that got added to my card thanks to various vouchers, and the special offer points!

Christmas SHOULD be more about spending time with loved ones, than about spending money on them. It should be about relaxing, rather than about stressing about the big bills that will arrive in January. If you're buying gifts, and you can afford to do so, then fabulous - I know I get as much pleasure out of buying for other people as I do about receiving things myself. We've tried for a while now in our family to give gifts that are useful, practical, and potentially the either will save the recipient buying for themselves, or that they simply couldn't justify buying for themselves. So MrEH loves getting a bottle of his favourite Whisky for example, camera memory cards are fantastic for me, and Mum asked for a hairdryer last year as her previous one was too heavy & cumbersome to use easily. If you don't know what someone wants, then ask them if there is anything in particular they might like. With friends, set a budget and stick to it. Above all don't get dragged into feeling as though you have to spend money you don't have to keep up with some kind of perceived idea of a "perfect Christmas".


Wednesday 13 November 2013

It's not all bad...

A lot of the time when you hear people talking about Social Media - Twitter, Facebook etc - it's the negative stuff you hear. Twitter is "just about people saying they are on the bus, or what they're having for dinner" while Facebook "encourages users to replace words to describe emotions, with emoticons". Back in August an Economist Online article said "Past investigations have found that using Facebook is associated with jealousy, social tension, isolation and depression." and there are any number of similar articles out there on the net. On Saturday though, a different side of social media was seen by many...

Source: BBC News Website
This is Harold Jellicoe Percival - a former RAF Serviceman who during World War II served on Groundcrew with 617 Squadron maintaining the Lancaster bombers that were used on the famous "Dambusters" raid. He died recently, and the Funeral Directors looking after his funeral - which was set for, rather appropriately, 11am on Monday morning - were concerned that as he had no family that they were aware of, there would be nobody to attend the funeral. As a result they placed an advert in the local press asking for Service personnel to attend.

By Saturday morning, the story was doing the rounds on Twitter...

...and by the middle of the day it had been picked up on FaceBook also - by several celebrities including Jason Manford - and with over 482,000 "likes" on his Facebook page, this is always going to get to people's attention even faster.

On Monday morning it is believed that anything up to 1,000 people attended the funeral service at Lytham Crematoriam. RAF Scampton, "Coe's" wartime base, was represented, as was the RAF Association. As well as military veterans and current serving personnel, many ordinary members of the public also attended.

If you need something to restore your faith in the power for good of Social media, then this is surely it?


** In Memory of Harold Jellicoe Percival **
1914 - 2013

Monday 11 November 2013


This is the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. A good many people will have been at an event where these fantastic planes will have made an appearance, sometimes just as a flypast of one, sometimes the iconic "set of three" - Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire. However they appear, they always serve as a reminder to stop and think just how much is owed to the ladies and gents of not only the RAF but of all the forces, working to keep our shores safe during conflicts.

The BBMF are based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and their history began on 11th July 1957 when the "Historic Aircraft Flight" was formed and made it's first appearances with three Spitfires. In February 1958 the flight was renamed "The Battle of Britain Flight" and in March that year it was rehomed at North Weald in Essex. The North Weald stay proved to be a short one however and just a couple of months later the Flight was on the move again - this time up to Martlesham in Suffolk. Further moves around East Anglia followed over the next few years, and by the early 1960's the Flight was housed at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk with four aircraft - 1 Hurricane and 3 Spitfires. On 1st June 1969 the name "Battle of Britain Memorial Flight" was officially adopted. More planes were added - first a second airworthy Hurricane, and then, possibly more significantly, in late 1973 - Lancaster PA474 was officially transferred to the Flight from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. In March 1976 the Lancaster - and the Flight's other aircraft - returned to Lincolnshire to another new home - Coningsby, where they have been housed ever since.

Only 1 member of Aircrew is permanently assigned to the Flight - Squadron Leader Dunc Mason, Officer Commanding RAF BBMF. The rest of the pilots, navigators etc volunteer to serve with the flight and give up their weekends in order to carry out flying duties. In the week they are flying Typhoons, Hercules and other fully operational aircraft - at the weekends it's Hurricanes, Spitfires, a Douglas Dakota or the Lancaster. The majority of the groundcrew also volunteer to be part of the BBMF, and working hours can be irregular to say the least - particularly during the display season! This year a member of BBMF groundcrew volunteered to participate in the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, also.

Next time you see the BBMF, remember those who lost their lives flying these amazing aircraft, and think just how much we owe to them.

"The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
Winston Churchill - August 20th, 1940.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Simplify It 2013 - the Final Stretch

Well I have rather taken my eye off the ball with this one, haven't I. Rest assured that behind the scenes the decluttering has been continuing apace - I'm pretty much there with my "365 Items OUT" challenge now, and the toiletries challenge is still going strong as well.

I've decided that for the final stretch of the year I'll concentrate on streamlining our food cupboards - using up those oddments of "stuff" from larder, cupboards and freezer that have probably been lurking around rather too long, and creating additional storage space for the large quantity of preserves etc we've made from foraged items this Autumn.

An Autumnal carpet in Harlow
Meal planning will play a big part in this - and I'm declaring the next week "Freezer week" to see what I can use up. (This post is being written on Friday afternoon so the meal-plan starts from then) Items marked * are coming from the freezer:

Friday: Square sausage*, egg & chips
Saturday : Lunch - soup & roll, Tea: Cheese & crackers
Sunday: Lunch (out) Rolls, crisps, flapjacks, Tea: Tartiflette
Monday: Ham* & mushroom pasta (cheats carbonara)
Tuesday: Pork* stir fry & Noodles
Wednesday : Lamb chops*, roasted squash & Red cabbage & apple*
Thursday: Sausages*, crushed tatties & sweetcorn* fritters
Friday: A decadent friday fry-up: Square sausage*, Stornoway black, white & fruit puddings*, egg, bacon, mushrooms, beans

The immediate aim is to clear enough space that freezer 2 can be switched off for defrosting - which it very much needs!

I've already been through both freezers - amalgamating the ends of a couple of bags of frozen veg, and working out exactly what we have that needs using. The larder will be the next to get this treatment with the focus firmly on the ends of bags of dried fruit, etc. I need to remember to incorporate stir fries into our menu regularly for a while too as we have lots of sachets of stir-fry sauce that were bought cheaply through our local "Approved Foods" style market stall.

This challenge will run through November and December and I will do a couple of updates on progress as it goes along, too. Hopefully some time around the end of November I'll be able to report defrosting happening!

I've also been asked for a recipe for my flapjacks - like a lot of my cooking they are a bit "make it up as you go along" but this rough recipe & method should see you right.

6 oz flour
6 oz porridge oats
3 oz Sugar - I use half soft brown and half demerera
6 oz fat - I use half stork & half butter
2 tbsp honey or golden syrup
The it gets random - couple of big handfuls of mixed dried fruit or sultanas (currants go too hard in the baking)
Big handful of mixed seeds - sunflower & linseed work well, and pumpkin seeds are excellent
Handful of chopped nuts - I used hazels and flaked almonds this time

Pop the fats & honey/syrup into a pan and set to melt together over a low-ish heat, mix the rest of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, pour the melted stuff into the dry and mix well until there are no floury bits left. Then press it all into a baking pan (lined with baking parchment - that's a lesson you learn after the first time!) - I use a square pan probably 8/10" in diameter - it needs pressing down quite firmly. Bake at about gas 5/6 (no idea what that is in electric!) for roughly 40 minutes - turning every 15 (unless you've got a posh fan oven of course ) - they should be lightly golden on top and smell gorgeous when they're done. Leave them to cool in the pan but divide them into squares as soon as they're out of the oven - that is ALSO a lesson you learn after the first time.... I cut mine into 12 usually.


Friday 8 November 2013

Frugal Friday...

Sometimes being frugal feels like a struggle. It's not that it's not a natural way to live, because it is. It's not that we feel deprived, or that we want to splash out and buy something utterly useless and frivolous - we don't. It's just that at this time of year we get a bit hard-up for daylight I think and that can make everything feel like wading through treacle. We leave home in the morning just after it's light, and arrive home in the evening when it's well and truly dark. Sometimes we need to sit back, ease up and appreciate the little stuff - so here we go, this week the little stuff looks like this:

Booking train tickets for a cheery weekend trip to Manchester to a beer festival in January. At £25 each return taking the train is cheaper than driving, and we've used some Red Spotted Hanky credit to reduce the real cost still further, too - Total cash spend £36.70

Wonderful architecture in Manchester
Digging up the remainder of our potatoes from the garden - we were really impressed at the return we got from a single bag of seed potatoes!

Clearing up the clutter on the balcony - emptying the shelving, throwing away pots that are in excess of what we needed, or were broken. Getting rid of the old mini-greenhouse - the cover has perished thanks to the torrents of water landing on it from the gutters at the top of the building. I'd love to buy just a new cover next year but sadly (and stupidly) that will be more expensive than replacing the whole thing. The balcony now looks clearer, and there is less "stuff" gathering dust.

Making some more of our gifted quinces into a delicious jam. "Real cost" of this was 1.5kg of sugar and a bit of gas for cooking as the quinces and the vanilla pod we used were free to us. 5 jars of jam for about 30p a jar.

Submitting the electricity meter reading and turning the estimated debit figure into a credit - silly old Scottish Power thinking we'd use THAT much power!

Cooking meals over the weekend that will see us right through the week - cooking double like this is great at this time of year when all you want to do on arriving home is stick something in the oven and eat it a short while later!

Being thankful that, unlike some others who are struggling with their household expenses, we're CHOOSING to live this way. Our heating isn't on yet, but that's because we haven't felt that we need it, and so have chosen to leave it off, rather than because we "can't afford it" - considering we're overpaying our mortgage by over 50% each month, saying we can't afford things like that would be overdramatising somewhat!

Being frugal doesn't mean never going anywhere!

Being gifted a pair of black trousers - ideally suited for workwear - which prove to fit beautifully in every respect other than length. Later today they will be making their way to the local dressmaker for alteration.

Discovering that our lovely local Artisan Bakery do an absolutely scrumptious "Croissant Pudding" - sort of like Bread & Butter pudding only with croissants - and at £2.75 for a pudding big enough for 2 portions for each of us, it's not going to break the bank as an occasional treat!

Discovering that, rather than needing two sidelight bulbs replaced, my car actually only needed one once I'd twiddled with the other one a bit - hurrah for loose connections!

MrEH's eagle-eyes spotting the "Giveaway Girls" at Liverpool Street Station and getting me a free Nails Inc Nail Varnish in a gorgeous metallic red shade - perfect for brightening up a wintry day! We'll be having a tasty stir-fry one evening using the sachet of sauce he was given at Chancery Lane another day, too, and then there are the several sachets of NikWax "TX Direct"...

Porridge for breakfast with a dollop of home made jam - whether home made by us, or by lovely Mum-in-Law!

Having JUST enough left over from my weekly spends after a lovely meal out with friends, and a fabulous loaf of bread on Saturday, to go swimming on Wednesday evening!

Realising that thanks to our Virtual Sealed Pot savings (where we "sweep" the odd pennies and pounds from our current accounts) we've already saved nearly enough to pay for our travel for an exciting extra Hebrides trip next year!

What were YOUR small frugal wins this week?


Wednesday 6 November 2013

Photos Rediscovered...

A holiday photo from 2006 this time -

This is Park Cottage, North Uist. The very first self catering cottage we stayed in, and also the first 2 week trip we made to the Hebrides. Remote enough to feel private, yet within a quick stroll of a very convenient Co-op and, better still a beach. This photo was taken on our first morning - we walked to the beach leaving the cottage with snow falling and getting to the beach in bright sunshine. Typical Hebrides weather!  This was also the day when we first saw a Redwing...

...pretty little things - we had no idea what they were until Ben's Dad told us when they arrived to join us for the holiday later that day. It was a holiday of rainbows that year - it seemed we saw one at every turn, including this beauty...

Those colours are not enhanced at all, I promise you - that is exactly how the camera saw it!


Tuesday 5 November 2013

Food glorious food!

After a good few weekends gallivanting about the UK, we welcomed the chance this week to stop, take stock, and "catch up with ourselves" a bit. No plans whatsoever, not so much as a rugby match! Much as we enjoy being busy, and going off doing things, from time to time you do need some time to slow down a bit and get the little stuff covered. We certainly didn't spend the whole weekend doing nothing though - far from it! Saturday morning was spent sorting out the cars - both had blown headlamp bulbs and mine had both sidelights out -although one of those sprang back to life with a bit of twiddling. We also got the shopping done, popped a couple of bags of decluttered "stuff" into the charity shop, and popped to the bakers for bread and a rather delicious pudding!

After lunch we turned our hands to some cooking - first cauliflower & macaroni cheese, a double batch which will provide two nights weekday dinners with no more effort than popping the dishes into the oven.

Then it was time for breakfast prep - MrEH's muffins and my favourite "Flapjacky Thing" - oats, fruit, nuts and honey and absolutely delicious. Both of these are dead easy and quick to make too. 10 muffins and a tray of flapjack = 2 weeks breakfasts, cheap, healthy and tasty.

Sunday also had some food-based shenanigans. Firstly there were the last of our potatoes to dig up - I really wish we'd weighed these as we'd harvested now, we've done really well from the bag of seed potatoes that cost us (I think) £2.75 - fabulous to get such wonderfully tasty treats from such a little investment.

 Then a slow-cooker full of beef stew - using up the final swede and the last of the beetroot we bought at Ludlow Food festival, the last two potatoes we bought in Norfolk, and a slab of Ox Cheek I bought in devon last weekend. A wonderful cut of meat this - the one I used today cost just £1.71 and will make meals for two of us for two days.

The final culinary experiment of the weekend was to use some of those Quinces we were gifted. A rather sensible friend suggested that as we had such a glut we should make "Jam, Jelly & Gin!" - well we already had two of those sort-of covered with the jelly we'd made previously and two jars of Quince Vodka infusing in the larder - however the jam idea appealed, so we researched a bit and eventually found This Recipe - however it would have been too simple to just follow that!  During the research we'd done we had spotted that due to its aromatic nature, quince goes well with spices such as vanilla - now vanilla is something that we have rather a lot of, thanks to generous quantities brought back from India by the in-laws. A pod was split and the seeds removed and the lot thrown into the pan with the fruit for its initial cooking. After a couple of hours simmering, the sugar was added, and the final result was the most beautiful jam...

...a delicate pink, with small chunks of fruit in a slightly paler colour, and speckled throughout with the vanilla seeds, and the flavour is just amazing! It also had the advantage of leaving the entire flat gorgeously perfumed with the most glorious aroma!


Sunday 3 November 2013

More Adventuring...

So, a couple of weeks ago I jumped on a train and headed South West - for a weekend in Dartmouth visiting family and the annual Food festival in the town. As usual I used the "cheap route" out of Waterloo - cheap it might be but it's also scenic, going through some beautiful little country stations on its 4 hour path through the English countryside. Finally you arrive at Exeter St Davids which is in itself a lovely station...

...then it's the train on to Paignton for me - 2 options to choose from, the speedy Torbay Express or the slow train stopping everywhere. On this route though it must be the slow option - just the names sing to you - StarCross, Dawlish, Dawlish Warren...this is the line that hugs the South Devon coast, in the summer packed with happy holidaymakers, buckets and spades, and ice-cream kiosks, but once September is past it's all birds, muffled up walkers and crashing waves.A truly magical journey and I never get tired of it!

Final stop Paignton - to most people this is "just another seaside town" although it does appear to be getting a bit of a facelift right now. The refurbished bus station adds a bit of colour...

..and also provides the stepping-off point for the next bit of my journey, onwards to Kingswear. Nearly there now, just the ferry to go. A bit of a special mode of transport itself this one - essentially a flat-top barge hauled across by a tug. No posh passenger accommodation here - you stand in the rain in the open!

Finally I step off the ferry - Dartmouth, MrEH's hometown, sitting alongside the River Dart in South Devon, and in fact more easily approached by water than by road, the nearest you can get by motorway is Exeter - an hour away by road. Now like so many towns of its type it's lost a lot of it's "useful" shops, to be replaced by trendy eateries and galleries - it's been said before that it's easier to buy a piece of art there than a pair of knickers! that notwithstanding, there is a busy market on a friday, and the butcher, fishmonger and farm shop all do brisk trade. This is possibly why for the last few years the town's annual Food Festival has thrived, and grown.
This year's festival was good once again, although we felt that the decision to cut the demo theatres from 2 to 1 was a mistake - in past years we've punctuated our days wandering around with demos, and have seen some excellent people from the Padstow Seafood School, to Jane Baxter of Riverford, and last year the hilarious Hardip Singh Kohli. This year we were able to get into the one remaining tent to see just one - the highly entertaining Tanner brothers.

We'd like to have seen more, but sadly a lot of the seats available were "hogged" all day by the same people, who seemed content to spend their day simply sitting in one place watching whatever was put in front of them (A bit like TV, only outdoors, presumably!) and so unless you were in the right position to grab one of the few seats to be vacated at the close of one show, and await the next, there was little chance to do so. Regardless of this though we had fun, and bought all manner of edible goodies. The weather was mostly kind to us, and we were able to find shelter (mostly in the beer tent!) when the rain did fall!

Friday 1 November 2013

Frugal Friday...

There has been a lot in the press recently about food waste, and off the back of that, a lot written on various blogs on the same subject, offering ways to use leftovers, and hearty assurances of how little food is wasted in THAT household. Whilst this is undoubtedly - in most cases at least - true, sadly the blogosphere is not, in this respect at least, a good cross-section of the country as a  whole when it comes to wasting food. when did you last read a blog - frugal or otherwise - where the blogger said how they'd bought this or that, but then changed their mind and thrown it in the bin instead? Well no, it wouldn't make great reading would it! Of course the reality for most households is that they probably waste more than they think. I'm not going to make any grand statements assuring you that we "never" waste food - of course we do, there's always the occasional thing that passes under the radar. Last week it was a banana - I generally like them when they're still tinged with green - beyond that they get too sweet for me, and MrEH simply forgot that the last one was there. "Oh, but you should have made banana bread/cake/muffins!" I hear you cry. Well yes, except that...ummmm....neither of us like cooked bananas, so making any of those things would have been just as wasteful. Had I had yogurt and perhaps some berries of some sort it would have made a glorious smoothie, but on this occasion I didn't. so it made its way to the compost. Is that still "waste" in the true sense of the word?

Reading through Frugal blogs you hear a lot about how the cost of food is constantly rising, but do you know, in common with a lot of others apparently, I'm not noticing this so much, Sure, individual items increase and decrease in price dependant on the season - that's natural. It's always going to be cheaper to buy fresh strawberries in the middle of summer than in the depths of winter - having said that why anyone would WANT to buy fresh strawberries in the depths of winter is a complete mystery to me, they tend to taste and smell of nothing! Farm shops are brilliant for shopping seasonally as the stuff that's piled high and priced cheaply is usually what they currently have a glut of. Our local-ish farm shop has squashes and pumpkins piled everywhere at the moment - we love this time of year as one of our favourite autumn meals is a small squash each, top removed, seeds scooped out, and filled with bacon, caramelised onions, perhaps some finely chopped mushrooms, grated cheese and a generous glug of cream. Roasted in the oven for 45 minutes or so this makes a sort of cross between a fondue and a soup - just delicious! (Cover the dish with foil though, otherwise they have a tendency to launch their tops off onto the back of the oven!)

We don't buy particular foods just because they're cheap. We buy almost no convenience foods - gravy comes from meat juices thickened with a little cornflour, with a splash of beer or wine added, mashed potato comes from, well, a potato, rather than a mysterious packet full of powder. If you like those sort of foods, well good for you, but they're not for us.  Perhaps though this is why we've noticed costs increasing less than others seem to be finding? We rarely buy branded, packeted, processed products, and perhaps this is where the increases are being felt most heavily? I recently did an order with "Approved Food" - the online sellers of short dated foodstuffs - the amount of "instant" and "convenience" foods they sell is almost frightening - from Polish pot noodle equivalents and "Lunch in a mug" pasta meals, to jars of "white sauce for lasagne" - seriously! Last time I looked white sauce was as simple as butter, flour and milk - why I would want to pay £1.20 for a jar of it goodness knows! I ended up with a decent box-full - bulgar wheat at 99p per kilo, pasta at 80p a kilo and dishwasher tablets at under 10p each were all chosen because they beat our "usual" target prices. Likewise a hug box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes - MrEH's favourite - some naan breads, chapattis and crackers. interestingly the only "convenience" food I bought was 3 tubs of Batter Mix - I recognised the packaging as being M&S and so knew it would contain free range egg. 3 big tubs for 99p means that I can use that when I want to make fritters, yorkies or even pancakes, saving our eggs to be eaten as eggs. It's not something I would dream of buying normally, so it will be interesting to see what we think.

What convenience foods make it into your cupboards? And what would you absolutely NEVER buy?


(The photos, while not entirely related to the subject, were all taken in Autumn 2006, so at least fit in with the time of year!)