Tuesday 7 October 2014

Not enough words...

Well, as mentioned elsewhere, it's been QUITE a few months. It all started in early June, when I went to the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight, discovered that the Red Arrows Jets were on the ground, and started taking photos of the guys in the Blue suits, the engineers, going about their work...

Everyone sees the Red Arrows, says "Wow" and thinks they're all about the dashing pilots in their red suits. Well of course that's a percentage of it, but, had you realised that in fact that is only 10% of the overall operation? The "Blues" as they are known outnumber the "Reds" by 10:1 and without them, the whole operation grinds to a rather disappointing halt. What suddenly hit me, as I stood by the fenceline at Biggin Hill, taking my pictures, is that genuinely, only a tiny proportion of people actually DO realise that, and an even smaller proportion of those have actually seen any of that work at first hand! Having finally battled my way free of the traffic in the car park, over the next few days I started posting my pictures on Twitter, and they began to get a positive reaction. Such a reaction, in fact, that I started giving them their own hashtag - "#CircusAtWork" to reflect the "Circus" engineers prominence in them (Circus, in case you don't recall from my earlier post, are the team of engineers who travel with the jets on transits to look after them on the ground). I'd focused in particular on two of the guys for that first batch - Cpl. Jonathan Wilcox, as I'd got to know his Aunt through Twitter and knew the family would appreciate the pics , and Cpl. Ross Harrison, who I'd also been chatting with on Twitter for a while. Meeting both Ross & Coxy that day, as well as a couple of the other guys, and chatting with them about what they did, just strengthened my resolve to really focus on their side of things as much as I could during the rest of the season.

From there, my summer got increasingly surreal and unexpected - firstly with the time on the ground at Bristol Airport which I blogged about HERE - and then with other opportunities for photos at Waddington, Fairford, Families Day at RAF Scampton and finally a full day airside at Blackpool Airport a couple of weeks ago.  I've spent a LOT of the past couple of months pinching myself to convince myself that I wasn't just dreaming it. Lucky doesn't even begin to cover how I feel about it - it goes so far beyond that it's untrue. The best bit by far has been getting to know some fabulous and amazing people, many of whom I've come to count as friends. I've learnt a lot too - and a lot about myself. I discovered that I'm braver than I think - it took me all my nerve to actually go up and talk to Red 8 - Flt. Lt. Martin Pert - at Biggin Hill, but I'm so glad I did as he proved to be absolutely lovely. (It took me a little longer to overcome my complete irrational terror of Red 10 - Sqn. Ldr. Mike Ling, but that's a whole other story, and he ALSO proved to be lovely!) It's true that good things can happen when you say "yes" - even if "yes" opens you up to scary things. I now know that I can largely disregard bitching when it relates to me, but it inflames me beyond belief when it relates to a friend - especially one who's not about to defend themselves. And I learned that I'm a better photographer than I would have given myself credit for at the start of the season - I've produced some shots during the year that I'm seriously proud of - with this one below coming out top of the heap...and clearly the Royal International Air Tattoo agreed as they featured it on their Facebook page a few weeks ago. The Circus At Work project continued right through the season and now looks set to be something that I will continue with in the future, also.

It's a real change for me to be able to put pictures out there and say "I'm proud of this" - even to myself. I've always been inclined to mumble a lot about how things are "alright" or "not as good as X's" and it's a real step forward for me to be able to acknowledge that I've produced some good stuff this year. Something to work on! Above all I've learned that there are a lot of really nice, kind people out there - who will put themselves out to do lovely things for others. Take Bex for example, who on the strength of a friendship formed on Twitter kindly made sure I could get Airside at Blackpool the other week - in exchange I asked for her to be able to spend time out on the line with the jets, which she enjoyed, so all square there! Also Nicky & Olly, who between them sorted out some problems Claire, Di and I had when it came to Families Day at Scampton - confusion over names being put on a list left us standing at the gate, and those guys sorted it out in spite of Olly not having the first IDEA who any of us were!

It seems a long while ago that Claire and I stood together at Scampton and said "Do you know, it would be quite a laugh to see how many displays we could do this season, with it being the Reds 50th year and all that..." - from there a plan was well and truly hatched and Claire has been my Partner In Crime throughout - even the shows we've done separately, the other has essentially been there in spirit, and the only thing which slightly dampened the Blackpool experience was that due to work commitments she couldn't make it. She was utterly thrilled for me though, as she was when I had my chance at Bristol too - and if that's not the mark of a real friend I don't know what is. Someone asked me while I was at Blackpool "So, come on then, there must be some competition between you and Claire - honestly?" but there's not. Photographically her thing and mine are very different - you'd never in a million years mistake our pics for each others,  and we cheerfully re-tweet one another's best shots and enjoy seeing the other get exposure. Being at Scampton together for Families Day was just brilliant - we had SUCH a good day even if we must have turned to each other and said "Wow!" about 50 times in the course of it! Her spare room is now nicknamed "Robyn's room" as I've spent so much time in it in the course of the summer! There are others too, who've turned into pals - Sarah, Di, Anthony, Tom and the lovely Kate who I spent a riotous weekend with for Blackpool and the Southport Airshow. She did her fair share of "Wow"ing that weekend too!

So - the team. Alternately known as "The Guys" "The Boys" and Reds & Blues. First mention goes to Ross - Circus 8 2014. Without him I'd not have done the half of it, thank you doesn't even begin to cover it although I think I've said that to him a fair bit! I was lucky enough to meet his parents a couple of times this year and in a heartbeat could see quite why he's such a nice guy, and seeing how proud they are of him, and how pleased they are to have the photos I've taken - well, that's a good reason for having put the time in, right there. I'll say it again Ross - thank you, next time the drinks are on me, OK? (Although I'm pretty sure you still owe me one, now I come to think about it... ;-) )  Ross's Driver for the year - Perty - Red 8, completely cool dude and all round nice guy, and also leaving the team this season having completed his three years. Above all positive comments from this man on photos mean a LOT - he's a keen and bloody good photographer himself. The person who's driven the team's interaction on Twitter forwards in leaps and bounds, and all the better for it. All that remains now is to wish him & the family all the very best for their future, whatever that may hold, and yes, of course, another thank you!

 Lingy - Red 10, lovely chap. What more can I say - sharp as a tack but not half as scary as I thought he was. Still have NO idea why I was terrified of him for at least half the season either - oh well! He's staying on the team for another couple of years too which is brilliant. Mike, Nicky, Stu, and the Kevs...and a lot of others too - had chat, banter and giggles with all of them through the season at the shows - what a laugh it's been. Crossing fingers for various people to get "interesting stuff" to do next year too - if only so they get out and about and we get the chance to catch up!

So, now, all change. There are 4 leaving the team...this year's Red 1, Red 6, 8 & 9. 4 new ones incoming too - the New Boss we've not met yet, but the three newbies to the main body of the team we met at Blackpool...

...(pictured there with Perty getting in on the act too!) and they definitely gained our approval for being willing to stop, chat, and pose for photos. On the Blues, too, it's all change. Nicky will be out and about round the shows again as he'll be looking after the paperwork as Road Documents Controller for the 2015 season. So far he's the only person from those guys to have publicly stated what he's doing next season though so I'll leave it there also. There will be a new group of Circus Engineers to be photographed - and now I know how much the pics mean to them, I'll be continuing with that project for sure. It's a strange mix of sadness and happiness now - the euphoria of the fantastic season we've just had still lingers, yet there is a sadness for those who've just had their most incredible time in their careers to date and now have to adjust to things going "back to normal" again. The phrase that's kept repeating in my mind is "it's all over"...but of course it's not, in some ways, it's just beginning all over again....bring on 2015!


Friday 3 October 2014

Frugal Friday...

Well - don't things slip when you're not keeping your eye on them?!

This has been the most hectic summer I've had in a while. It's not been cheap, for sure, but in some ways it HAS been frugal. I've amassed not a penny of debt and, while I've not added to my savings any, I've not taken away from them either. Above all it's been the MOST fantastic, enjoyable, fun few months I've had in a very long while - indeed possibly ever, and as we've always said, life is for living, first and foremost.  I've a whole other blog post in mind to wrap things up on the "What I did this summer" line, so for now, let's concentrate on getting things back on a frugal footing, shall we?

So, I'll throw my hands up and admit - over the past few months our food spending has increased, meters have not been read, and I've lost track completely of all the usual small bits of money shuffling and maintenance that used to get done on a regular basis. Time to tackle those things one at a time now, I think:

The gas needs MrEH to read it - which he will do over the weekend. We know where we stand on that one though and, as expected, in spite of the DD with the new supplier being set at £5 per month (which THEY said was too little, and I said was too much) we're already going to be running in credit with that.
The electric is another matter. I checked the account the other day, and was slightly baffled to find that the account didn't look *quite* right. I couldn't put my finger on why though...the figures for the readings were correct against the app on my phone, so why? It took a few moments of scrutiny before I realised with one of those genuine face/palm moments - the two readings had been transposed, so that the reading which should have been for our day use, was actually showing against the night reading, and vice versa! Doh! Looking back, it appears that somehow this happened when I originally switched to them so has been wrong ever since! Anyway, a quick email gained the remarkably common sense response from them that all I needed to do was send them two photographs of the meter, taken more than three hours apart, so they could ascertain that everything was as it should be, and they will correct it. My part of this bargain is now complete and I hope that they will sort things out nice and swiftly now, so we can find out where we stand.

Food shopping:
The biggest issue here has been shopping without a list, and letting stuff get wasted when it's been bought from habit - two problems which are extremely easy to sort out! This morning's shop was indeed done with list in hand and I've planned through our meals for the week too. One of the things I've struggled with through the summer has been eating badly - when I've been home, in theory it's been fine, but actually what's tended to happen is that I've been tired, not felt like cooking, and a higher than usual number of easy options and takeaways have crept in. Let's face it, we've all been there! Of course getting THAT back under control is easy - and this is the perfect time of year for it too, when the lure of sausage and bean casseroles and potato bakes gets ever stronger. Regular fridge and freezer audits will help to tackle the waste issue too - I'm cross with myself about that above everything else as I HATE wasting food, and while it's not been enough, it's been sufficient to make me feel I've let myself down a bit. Anyway, the aim for the next few weeks is to keep the weekly food spend to under £25 per week - today's supermarket bill came in at £17 although there are a few bits I need to get from elsewhere yet, too.

Personal spending:
Aim for this for the next few weeks is going to simply be to reduce it! Or rather, should I say, to keep it as low as possible. My October personal money in the bank is as yet untouched, and I have £20 in my purse which I intend to stretch as far as I can. How far that is remains to be seen. I've got a few planned spends this month - some travel to book, a trip down to Devon and one or two other small bits, but that's about it - and beyond that into November there will be a few days in Lincolnshire and a few up in Scotland. I've started the month as ever by stashing £50 into my "Fun" account and £100 into savings - and while some of that will have to be withdrawn to cover spends on the credit card when the bill turns up, I'm aiming to cover as much as possible from my regular monthly money.

Forward planning: 
If I'm intending to do the airshow season next year to a similar extent to this, then some degree of forward financial planning is most definitely needed! With that in mind, I'll be adding to my "treats tin" with any spare cash from my purse, and I also have a new savings account which will being used for any money left over at the end of the month in my bank account, my saved £2 coins when I count those up at the end of the year, and anything extra I earn. I'm setting no firm targets or aims for this - whatever is there at the start of the season can be used to pay towards tickets, accommodation and travel, where required. Booking show tickets on "earlybird" deals will also feature - some pals and I have a plan to do all three days at the Royal International Air Tattoo for example, and a healthy saving can be made on the tickets for that by buying as soon as they are released, I know. As soon as the Red Arrows release their display dates I'll sit down and make a firm list of which shows I want to go to, as well, as booking accommodation earlier often means a saving too - Claire and I also have some plans for maybe making a trip to Cyprus to see the winter training, and that will take both planning and money.

So, a summary right now would be that we need to stick our heads down a get back into the groove with this, I think. The mortgage stuff is going well - we've heard back from the Financial Ombudsman to say that our complaint against Virgin Money is now being looked into, and we're crossing our fingers that they will come back in our favour. If so that will make a big difference to the figures there, and will bring our Mortgage Free date forward a bit more, as well. If not, well, we'll shrug it off and carry on as we are - and if anything it will make us all the more determined to get it gone the very second we can!

I'm not promising that I'm going to be doing Frugal Friday on a weekly basis from here on - but I'll be aiming to do at least one post a month, maybe more.