Tuesday 15 December 2015

All quiet... (In every sense!)

A few days ago I had a good natter with my lovely pal from The Wind & The Wellies about struggling to find ones voice when it comes to writing stuff online, and the reasons for that. In fact she's very sensibly written a whole blog post on the subject already. She talks much sense. Go. Read.

Done? Good - I'll carry on then! Well, I say I'll carry on, but that's not entirely straightforward it is it - because as I said to her earlier, I'm just not sure what to write about...and that makes it just a little bit tricky. It's been a funny sort of year - the summer was once again massively busy and full of all sorts of fun, but in the background there was been some stresses (which I mentioned here previously) which have only finally sorted themselves out quite recently. In the process of it I thought I was going to end up losing contact with a very dear friend - not through either of our fault, or even really choice, but simply because that was going to be the best thing for both of us. In the end - thank goodness - we found a way through, and in fact have probably emerged with a stronger friendship because of it. It's made me realise quite how much I valued the whole relationship though, and maybe that's no bad thing, to have that sort of reminder from time to time? All in all though the process of dealing with the situation has taken up a hell of a lot of my headspace over the last little while, and not left that much time for writing stuff on here.

There is the added issue of, since the airshow season finished, I've not really done a huge amount to talk about. There have been odds and ends - a couple of beer festivals, a trip to Birmingham for the Good Food show (think lots of cheese, and nearly as much smoked fish...) and a couple of trips up to Scampton to see the Reds winter training. All good fun, but not really anything that's made me think "I must tell the Blog about that". Thankfully though there is plenty of plans for the New Year - a trip to Manchester, a weekend in Norfolk, some more Island adventuring, and indeed some Ireland adventuring too, more pointing the camera at Little Red Jets (as I do) and a few other odds and ends to be crammed in there too. Then before I know it the airshows will be starting again - we're already starting to plan where we're heading next year although for me nothing will be set in stone until we see the Reds display calendar for the year - I will then plan my summer around that.

Other than that - life continues much as normal. Whilst living less frugally than we were this time a year ago - that is as the result of a conscious choice, that sometimes there are things that are worth spending money on as they save us valuable time, or give us enough enjoyment that they are worth it. The renting of the garage for example, gives us back space at home, and will help my car to stay in good condition for longer. MrEH is looking at a shirt laundering & pressing service as a possibility at the moment too - ironing is nobody's favourite pastime is it, and over time it's impossible to keep white shirts looking as crisp and fresh as they ought to with home laundering, so while he probably wouldn't use that sort of service on a weekly basis, he may do occasionally just to give his work wear a freshen up. Other stuff doesn't change at all - I still pretty much entirely cook from scratch as that's the food we prefer - ready meals (unless they're home cooked and frozen ones!) don't suit us. We shop around for the best deals on things, buy train tickets for planned adventures when they are first released for the best prices, meal plan and budget for stuff.  All good, all ticking along. We're still not sure exactly what and when our final target is, but at the moment, as things stand, that is also just fine. I'm tentatively planning a "use it up" month for January - aiming to tackle to store cupboard, larder, freezer and fridge - so some inventive meals may be beckoning! Whether that becomes a Frugal Friday theme I've not decided yet, but you never know.

Life is good - and you can't ask for much more than that, can you!


Friday 16 October 2015

Frugal Friday...

Ooh it's been a while since I've written a "Frugal Food" post! I enjoyed this recipe so much though, and it is just SO frugal, I felt I should share...

Spawned less from frugality and more from an evening when we had forgotten to get anything out of the freezer to cook, winter was starting to make it's presence felt by way of squally rain and a cold wind, and we were both absolutely STARVING. A hasty rustle through the the cupboards and fridge for what we had in lead to this lovely warming, filling dish.

Finely slice an onion and saute off in a pan in oil with a little knob of butter added. A pinch of salt over the onions at the start helps with the cooking and the combination of that and the butter gives the onion a lovely golden colour too. Add a pinch of chilli flakes - mine were some gorgeous smoked ones bought recently at the Ludlow Food Festival. If you don't have flakes then powder is fine, or even tabasco - just bear in mind you want a gentle warmth rather than a fierce heat, though. Slice a fresh pepper - any colour will do, or you could use a handful of sliced frozen ones. (A really useful ingredient to keep in the freezer at around £1 a bag). Once everything is soft and the onions are turning golden tip in either a carton of passata or a tin of chopped tomatoes, and stir well. Add a half-teaspoon of sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomato.

Once everything is simmering together gently it's time to get a large pan of well salted water on the go - bring to a good boil and tip in your pasta or spaghetti - pop a lid on but for goodness sake don't forget about it - overcooked pasta is vile! Open a tin of sardines - if in sauce throw the lot into the pan with the tomato mixture, if in oil hoike the sardines out and chuck those in and reserve the oil. Add a teaspoon of smoked paprika and, if you want to bulk the dish out a bit, a can of well drained butter beans and stir *VERY* gently - you want to ensure everything heats through but not break the sardines up too much.

Once your pasta is cooked drain it roughly and if you have reserved oil from the sardines throw it back into the pan with the oil and toss together. My final touch for the sauce was to check the seasoning and then add some coriander leaf - I buy fresh coriander by the bunch and pop it into the freezer so I can just shake out a little at a time. Serve the sauce spooned over the pasta.

Rough costings for this:
Spaghetti (8p) Pepper (15p if using frozen) Onion (7p) Herbs & Spices (5p max) Sardines (40p) Tomatoes (33p) Butter Beans (33p) = Total cost £1.41 or £1.08 if omitting the beans - with them however this made two REALLY generous portions - to be honest it would have fed three easily just with the addition of a little more pasta.

This one will definitely be getting added into the repertoire regularly - tasty, cheap and most importantly sometimes QUICK.

Saturday 10 October 2015

On friendship...

Friends...we all have them - at least, I hope you're not reading this and thinking "Well I don't....*sniff*" They come in different shapes and sizes - there are best friends, good friends, casual acquaintances, social media "friends", workmates. Every now and again though you might meet someone who for whatever reason you have an immediate connection. The kind of friendship that others will look at and say "So how on earth are you two friends then?!" in astonishment, and the only answer you can come up with is a sort of helpless shrug and "We just are!" Sometimes this sort of friend is someone who you can not speak to for ages, but when you do the pair of you just pick up where you left off, in other cases it might be someone with whom you keep a regular dialogue going, but either way that connection means that the friendship endures regardless.

Over the past few years I've been lucky enough to make several of these friends - each are very different in their own way. One I got to know through an online forum, and pretty much from the very first moment we interacted at all we just utterly "got" each other. Since then we've seen each other through tragedy and triumph, shared confidences that in some cases we haven't even told our respective partners about, and know without a question of a doubt that we can absolutely, 100% categorically trust the other with that sort of information.  We're incredibly similar in a lot of ways although from totally different backgrounds and our lives have taken very different paths. Another I met through a shared interest - I was aware of them through social media although we hadn't interacted at all on there, and on realising who I was standing just along from I bounced up and introduced myself in my usual impetuous way when I know full well if I stop to think too long I'll chicken out! In return I got a deeply suspicious look that I now know to be a fairly standard one for that sort of introduction, but somehow regardless of that a friendship was born, one which others now assume has been very long, when in fact we've only known each other a couple of years! A third I worked with for years - well I say "with" - for the same company but some 120 miles apart! Work calls to check stock levels rapidly extended into long chats that got the pair of us ticked off at various times by assorted Managers and now although both of us have long since escaped from the company concerned we're still in very regular touch and very close friends. Then there's the friend who messaged me on social media after seeing some of my pictures - casual chat lead to meeting up, and I suspect to an extent to both of our surprise we got on like a house on fire immediately. Polar opposites in a lot of ways, with seemingly relatively few shared interests, that's never lead to a lack of conversation or us being any less than comfortable together and if something exciting happens in my life they are unquestionably one of the very first people I want to tell! I rarely meet anyone who I trust almost immediately, but in this case I definitely did. This is definitely one friendship that's had a lot of others scratching their heads! Finally another "Social Media Friend" who has now become one of my very best - from initially casual interaction on Twitter we realised we were going to get on well, and in fact the very first time we met at all it was actually to spend several days in each other's company! Since then we've been in almost daily contact, and shared secrets and excitements, tears and giggles and LOTS of booze!

Sometimes it's impossible to label friendships, to explain to others why you're friends with someone. Yes obviously a lot of friendships stem from a strong shared interest, but sometimes in life our interests change, we stray away from the environment that brought us into contact with particular people in the first place.  In some cases that means we also drift away from the people concerned, but even then the real friendships will continue as we've moved past those shared interests into discovering what else we like and identify with in a person. Yesterday I stood alongside several other friends at the funeral of another - we've all known each other for years, range in ages from 50's through to 20's (and in fact are  well spread across that age range) and don't necessarily see each other every week, month or even year, yet in spite of that yesterday, for a few hours, we were each others closest comfort. Each and every time we meet now there will be a great big gap where our other friend should be standing.

Appreciate your friends, treasure those strange connections with others, don't waste time asking yourself why someone wants to be your friend, just rejoice in the fact that they do.


Wednesday 23 September 2015

"Mini-Holland" - an outside view...

If you live in London, chances are you may already have heard of the "Mini Holland" schemes that are currently being proposed for three London Boroughs - Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston, and in fact has now been implemented at least in part in the first of those. Before I go any further I should mention that I am a driver. I am also a pedestrian...and a cyclist - so I am able to look at this subject with a foot in each of the three camps that it is meant to affect. (No, I don't really have three feet!)

As a cyclist, you need to have your wits about you no matter where you ride in my view. Pedestrians with no awareness of cyclists being on the road is one issue, and drivers turning straight across cycle lanes or simply turning without indicating is another. When I'm cycling, I signal my intentions, use the roads or cycle lanes NOT the pavements, and ride defensively when I'm around traffic. As a driver, one of the things that I find most annoying to have to deal with on the roads is cyclists who consider that the rules of the road - no, sorry, let me re-phrase, the LAWS of the road, do not apply to them. Going to turn left at a junction only to realise that I can't, and simply have to stop dead as I have a cyclist wobbling up the left hand side of me totally ignoring my indicator; Sitting patiently at a red light watching as cyclist after cyclist whizzes past and across the junction with scant regard for any other road user; or as happened just this morning, making a left turn into a one way street to find myself faced with a cyclist coming towards me at speed - thankfully she just managed to squeeze through the gap available without doing any damage to my vehicle*. As a pedestrian one of the things I find most dangerous is - oddly enough - Cyclists who consider that the laws of the road do not apply to them. If I cross a one way street, I look in the direction that the traffic will be coming from - yet often find a cyclist bearing down on me from the "wrong" way. Crossing the road outside the office where I work regularly - I wait for the "green man" to show at the lights-controlled crossing, yet all too often nearly get hit by a cyclist riding straight through as I cross. (On average this probably happens 4 - 6 times a month - and I'm not there every day! As a comparison, and to keep things fair for the cyclists, in 5 years of using that crossing with some regularity I have NEVER nearly been hit by a car driving through the red lights...

So - mini-Holland. It's stated aims are: (Taken from the Scheme's own website)
1.  Improve our roads to make it easier and safer to travel between areas in the borough
2. Improve and Create new public spaces to make the borough a more enjoyable place to live, and to encourage community interaction
3. Increase the number of people choosing to travel on foot, by bike and on public transport to ease congestion on the roads, improve air quality, and improve the health and well being of our residents

Although I used to live within Walthamstow I no longer do so, therefore I can't comment with any certainty on the improvements to quality of life. My interaction with the area these days is to drop Mr EH off at Walthamstow Central Station most mornings, to enable his onward travel to his workplace by public transport. I then continue to my own workplace which is outside Walthamstow. Now I can hear the tutting already....why does he not just use public transport for the entire journey?! Let me explain:
Monthly ticket from our local station to Liverpool street: £326.40 
Monthly ticket from Walthamstow to Liverpool Street: £89.90
Rough diesel cost per month Home > Walthamstow: £90.00
Rough estimate of monthly cost of running car: £50.00 (Tax, insurance, tyres, servicing)

So we are very nearly £100 a month BETTER OFF by NOT using public transport. How mad is that? It gets worse though - as that diesel/running cost figure of course includes my commuting too, and we've not even talked about the fact that we live just over 2 miles from the station so there will always be occasions when MrEH would need to get a bus to the station because of weather conditions, for example...except that we don't HAVE a bus that runs to the station! (My commute, done on public transport, would cost in the region of £200 a month, by the way, and would take around 2 hours each way minimum)

The Mini-Holland scheme has been in place now for a few months - it's been gradually taking effect as more and more road closures are being put into place. Have I noticed an increase in people cycling? No. An increase in people on foot? Well, no - as the vast majority of people who live within the Walthamstow area don't drive around it anyway unless they're dropping kids off at school - something which certainly has NOT decreased, largely I suspect because the road closures that have been put in place don't really affect the problem-areas around the schools! What I have noticed is a massive increase of traffic along the main roads - the pollution on those streets must now be horrendous with all that nose to tail traffic. Amusingly one of those roads features one of the new safer cycle-paths...hmmm! Taking Hoe Street as an example - it used to flow nicely most mornings - with traffic able to travel at 20 - 30mph without any issues other than when something unforseeable struck, such as a traffic light failure for example. I've noticed an increase in drivers behaving aggressively - I suspect as a result of frustration caused by the traffic and their inability to get where they want to go via any sort of sensible route. Mileages are increased too - I'd estimate my old route from drop-off point to parking place at being around 1.8 miles...Google maps now suggests I'm having to drive around 2.5 miles to make the same journey. 

There has been a lot of focus on how dangerous it is to cycle in London - and yes, it can be, there's no question. Yet by their very actions a lot of cyclists are happy to make it more dangerous still to be a pedestrian - we don't only have the actions of car-drivers to contend with but also the scenarios I mentioned earlier! However, as both a driver and a pedestrian the use of a decent amount of common sense can reduce the personal risk - and you know what, the same thing applies to cyclists! In so many cases where cyclists have been killed or injured by trucks, for example, it is as a result of a cyclist going up the left hand side of a large goods vehicle and being crushed as the driver can't see them when they are in the blind spot. This sort of event has a similar effect on a driver to that of a Tube Driver having a "one under" - yet people rarely even give consideration to that side of things! harmony on the roads relies on ALL users of them - whether those users are on foot or on two, or four wheels - using common sense, having a regard for others and behaving with courtesy. In my opinion without those factors, any "Mini-Holland" style scheme will just shift the problems to a different location, rather than curing them. Let's focus more on educating road users rather than preventing them going about their business, eh? 


* It should be remembered that cyclists do not currently have to carry any form of insurance. In the event of their actions causing damage to a vehicle it is left to the innocent driver to pick up the bill. 

Friday 7 August 2015

Frugal Friday...

I almost feel slightly guilty writing Frugal Friday posts now. In the last few years our finances have improved substantially, although it would be fair to say that our spending hasn't increased greatly as a result. We are now extremely fortunate to be at the point though where, if we wished, we could live a far less frugal life. So far though our choice has been "business as usual" - and we continue to be on target with overpaying the mortgage and saving any spare cash against the future. Reading through other blog posts where people are doing the frugal thing because they simply have no choice - there isn't any more money coming in than covers the absolute essentials - that makes me feel as though really, do I have any right to be "playing" at it like this? My justification is - and has always been - that I HAVE been there myself, and learned valuable lessons from those times, and so if I can put that knowledge to help others who find themselves in that boat now, it's well worth the time spent writing, no?

One thing we've always been careful about is to ensure that things aren't "so" cut to the bone that everything starts to feel like a chore, a penance. I think that's probably why I've never ended up writing these posts as a "poor me" type moan. And had I done, frankly that would be ridiculous as after all if we're lucky enough to be in a position to be overpaying the mortgage then we would also be in a position where it would be quite reasonable for those reading to just suggest I either put up or shut up. We've not sat shivering while our perfectly good heating remains switched off in the depth of winter, (bad for both us AND the property itself, this one) and one phrase I have always shied away from using is "I can't afford" as, honestly, in many cases we COULD afford, we've chosen not to.  Again, not everyone is that lucky, but fun can come in a number of forms and not all of them need to cost money. Think about combining a necessary journey with a walk in the countryside, for example, or just giving yourself an hour to sit in the garden with a cold drink and a good book. 

If all continues to go to plan we are less than two years away from kicking that mortgage into touch once and for all, and for us we've now reached the point where it feels right to relax things a little. We've rented a garage - with my car getting used relatively little through the winter this seemed like a sensible plan, and it's also given us somewhere to store some of the random crap from elsewhere!  We've increased the amount we budget for fun stuff too, while throughout this whole adventure we've always made a point of  making sure we still do fun stuff, that will now extend to include a meal out together once a month or so and more trips where we can like our visit to Lundy with a gang of friends back in May. We're looking to increase charity giving again this year too - we've donated regularly to the RSPB for years, and last year started a regular donation to the RNLI as well - with MrEH having grown up for much of his childhood in South Devon, close to both sea & River Dart, it's a charity close to his heart and he was keen to give once we could. Later this year we'll probably add in something to one of the Forces Charities - I have increasing numbers of friends serving in the RAF and it would feel nice to be able to give something to a charity that might - if worst came to worst - one day actually help someone I know. All of this will not impact on the amount we're setting aside for over-paying/clearing the mortgage. 

Some stuff won't change much though - I'll still continue to search out the best deals I can for Insurances and breakdown cover, still keep an eye out for the cheapest place locally to fill the car up, haggle with Sky and cook from scratch. Those things have become such second nature now we see no reason to change them. I'll keep a beady eye on the interest rates on our ISAs and we'll look to move money around when it is sensible to do so. I won't be rushing out to buy designer this and that, or doing all my food shopping in M&S or Waitrose (not though we have either of those near enough for it to be an option anyway!) nor will we be looking buy a brand new car every few years just to keep up with the Jones's!  As things stand both cars that we have currently will be kept for the time being - we have started discussing some future planning stuff on that front but while both are running OK they'll be staying with us. MrEH's C3 will almost certainly spend the rest of her days with us rather as his last one did - our thinking with his car has always been to buy something not "cheap" as such, but at the budget end of the market, and then just run it until it drops or is obviously starting to have too many problems to be worth fixing.

So, life continues as "business as usual" as I said, albeit with a bit more slack and wriggle-room - always good for reassurance - and I'll continue to write these posts occasionally as ideas occur to me. If there's something you'd like to see me tackle then please do let me know!


Monday 6 July 2015

An ambitious trip...!

Last week I made my first trip to the Hebrides without MrEH in tow as well - and also my shortest ever visit, as I was in the Western Isles for a grand total of 22.5 hours! Those of you who follow my Instagram or Twitter accounts already know that the reason for this trip was to see those RAF Red Arrows displaying in Stornoway - only their third ever visit to the Hebrides and the first time they've been there since 2001.

This one took a LOT of planning...right from when Red 10 first mentioned on Twitter having done the site survey back in March there was never any real question in my mind that I wanted to do it, the question was always how it was going to be possible. Flying straight up & back just proved too expensive and had to be dismissed straight away, it would also have meant that I would have had to lose two days work rather than just one - increasing the cost of the whole escapade even more. Thankfully as you know I do enjoy a bit of travelling so the thought of doing it in lots of stages wasn't as daunting as it might have been, and a bit of lateral thinking later and I settled on the following plan of action:

In flight on a Ryanair 737-800 o the way up...
On Saturday MrEH dropped me off at Stansted airport - it's at times like this that living close to a major hub airport comes as an advantage. I flew to Glasgow, where lovely Fay picked me up and drove me into the city to spend the night with another ace lady - Laurie, being able to combine the trip with seeing those two was a total bonus! Much wine was consumed and I confess to feeling a little delicate as I set off for Queen Street station and the next phase of the journey on the Sunday morning. Thankfully a large bottle of water sipped gently between there and Inverness sorted out the worst of that, and a fast-food lunch killed off any residual doubts as to whether my innards were going to behave or not! Good thing too as the next stage was one of my least favourite modes of transport - the bus across to Ullapool to catch the Ferry over to Stornoway itself. All went like clockwork and by 9.30pm I was happily settled in at the cosy B&B I'd booked, with a cup of tea and a book. Monday morning dawned with heavy grey cloud and light drizzle - just the sort of weather we really didn't want to see but with the boys not due to arrive until 2pm and the display not until 5pm there was time for it to change. Over breakfast I got my first surprise of the trip when I discovered that the display site has changed from the Airport to the town - all sorts of questions came rushing to the fore at that point - notably how on earth I was going to get through there in the first place, and then back to the airport afterwards in order to check in in time for my flight back to Glasgow - which was due to be shortly after 7pm! I know from experience that these things have a habit of working out though so stuck that one onto a mental back-burner for the time being.

Circus 2, aka James, aka "The short grinning Geordie" ;-) 
A few weeks previously I'd emailed the airport at Stornoway to enquire where they were planning on putting the jets while they were on the ground there - as I was hoping to be able to spend some time taking photos of the Circus guys at work I was hoping that they were going to be close to a fence-line where I could at least shoot through the fence. The reply came back asking me to call at the end of the week before, so on the friday beforehand I duly placed the call and spoke to the Airport Manager who proceeded to inform me that what they'd like to do was arrange airside access for me so that I could be on the ground to see the team arriving and get my groundshots too. Absolutely amazing - I definitely didn't expect anything of that sort and once again it reinforced my knowledge of just how fabulously hospitable Hebridean folk are. As such I reported to the airport at 1pm as agreed, was duly given my pass and taken across to the tower where it was agreed that the lovely Iain would drive me over the far side of the airport to the Hangar where the jets would be parked. It was also agreed that he would drive me into town for the display as well - which was fantastic!

Discovering the challenge of fitting the jets & fire crews and appliances into a photo... 
Bang on time as always the jets appeared - unusually in two groups rather than the more familiar "Big battle" V formation of 9, or the standard poor-weather fall-back of 3 groups of 3, and in short order they taxied round the airport and arrived on the pan in front of me. First to come over was Red 10 (Lingy) - he already knew I was there as I'd tweeted him when I arrived the night before (His reponse an astonished "You haven't...?!") and it was as always nice to see his cheerful grin! I took the chance to ask quickly if there was any chance I could grab a lift back from the airport with him after the display too and he agreed that he thought it was unlikely to be a problem but to go and find him and Martin when I got into town and he would confirm. Time then to deal with the official stuff - some photos of the team with the local Air Cadets, and a few more for the Airport fire crews, then time for getting stuck in to my first proper "Circus At Work" shots of the 2015 season. Fantastic to catch up with pals from last season Nicky & James, and to meet some more of the new guys on Circus for 2015 too - seems like we have another lovely bunch this year! After a couple of hours hard work...and a wee bit of time to play...

Duck! ;-)
...there was just time to grab a quick cuppa before Iain and I headed off into town where I bid him farewell with many thanks! Off to find Lingy and Martin then - which I duly did at the ferry terminal cafe - and confirmation that my transport back to the airport afterwards was sorted which came as a real relief! All that was left then was for the weather to play ball, which it REALLY didn't - all day it had been brightening up then clouding over again, and right on cue 15 minutes before display time the cloud descended again and visibility dropped right back to outside the limits - absolutely NOT what was needed!  Even five minutes before it was still looking doubtful whether we were going to get any display at all - but thankfully Hebridean weather did it's thing of changing in a heartbeat and the decision was made that at least the jets could come in for a first-half...in the event the clouds cleared back enough that we got an entire flat display much to the appreciation of the crowd! Standing with Martin for the display it was interesting to see how he worked - as Circus 10 his role at displays is to film the display so the team can use the footage to debrief later - without someone in place to film the display can't take place so he's a pretty important part of the operation! The unexpected positioning of a massive cruise-ship at the pier caused some difficulties for both of us AND the team - datum (the centre point of the display) had to be relocated slightly to take account of it!

Circus 10 (Martin), me & Red 10 (Lingy) on return to Stornoway airport after the display.

Once the display was over we wasted little time in getting packed up, the taxi duly arrived and the three of us hopped in and returned to the airport, all that was left them was to say my goodbyes and check in for my flight home - which ran slightly late ironically enough due to the aircraft being delayed earlier in the day due to the arrival of some Little Red jets...! From there everything ran like clockwork again which was a relief - the airlink bus to the city centre arrived as planned and my National Express bus back to London left dead on time. All in all it was a truly superb few days and I'd take the risk of undertaking a similar trip again should they display in the Hebrides in the future - of course it may well be that by the time they do, any journey would be substantially shorter!


Thursday 2 July 2015

Truth or Lies?

I wrote a post a while back about the ethics relating to writing blog posts - here it is if you want a read. It's something that raised its head again for me a while ago after a conversation with a friend, so I thought I'd explore it a bit more. We were talking about my Blog - my friend has said before that she enjoys reading it, especially the Frugal Friday posts, and she was remarking on my "Frugal Food February" of the other year in particular. She asked "So come on then, how much did you REALLY spend during the month?" I was a bit lost for a second...the penny dropped eventually though and I explained that the amount was exactly what she'd read on the blog. I went on to explain that everything I write on the blog is truthful - I see no reason to lie and and liars always get caught out in any event.

I wrote my Frugal Friday posts for several reasons - first that I enjoyed writing them - it's a challenge having a deadline to write for each week and for a while I felt like I needed that - it was good for me as it meant that I had to sit down and write that amount of words each week without fail. The other reason is that I know other people enjoyed them and have even found them useful - and if I can do something that I find enjoyable, which also helps others, then why not? I'd enjoy them a lot less though if I was constantly trying to remember whether I'd previously mentioned a particular purchase, or whether I'd conveniently forgotten to refer to it. Take MrEH's car replacement last year for example - I mentioned it on here because a) it was a £2k spend, and NOT mentioning it, particularly when Frugal Friday comes about, would have felt like I was lying by omission b) It was a good chance to "talk through" a process that I've done before and so find relatively straightforward, yet I already know from the feedback I've had on it that a lot of folk found some of the points in it useful to know and c) I've posted pics in the past of the old car when we've been on camping trips etc - now you're an observant lot, I know that, and so I think it's fairly likely you would have noticed MrEH's car had changed colour from blue, to red! At that point, people would be sitting there scratching their heads and wondering what else I'd not mentioned - you can be sure of that. Likewise my new camera, and lens - bought last year. Yes they were big (massive!) purchases for me (around £1,600 in total) and on the face of it, far from frugal, but in reality it WAS frugal - I'd saved up, waited until I could afford it, and until I was certain that it was a purchase I wanted to make, and that I would get good value from it. Had we had debts that needed clearing (aside from that mortgage, and you already know about our assault on that!) then the money would have gone to those first and foremost, but we don't, so I routinely save from my personal income to ensure that I can afford to indulge myself on occasion, once the money is there. Once I have though, I'm quite happy to talk about it on here, there's no reason not to and ensures I can be comfortable within my own moral-framework.

If you're a good liar, you can probably get away with it, and nobody will be any the wiser. Of course if you're a blogger who's keen on product promotion to earn money, or on getting yourself nominated for various high-profile awards, that's a more dangerous game, and it gets even MORE dangerous if you were to be that sort of blogger and a bad liar with a poor memory, to boot. A relatively small amount of research confirms that there are JUST those sorts of bloggers out there too!  Reading through various blog posts myself and a pal  noticed one or two slightly "confusing" discrepancies - discounts offered in exchange for a product promotion initially weren't mentioned at all, and was then subsequently referred to as a 15% discount, before later increasing to 25%. That's minor though and pales into significance when you consider the "Frugal" blogger who "forgot" to mention the purchase of a 20k brand new car - my memory is bad but even I'd not manage to forget something like that! (And oddly enough the tweet which gave the game away has now been removed...however a screengrab is a useful thing!) How about reading posts by someone who has regularly told us that they don't use their heating as they "can't afford it", and yet their family members have regularly been pictured wearing t-shirts in the house in midwinter, or mysterious vanishing pots of money, there one minute and dedicated for a particular purpose, and missing without trace the next? Of course it is entirely reasonable that the writer of a blog chooses what to write about, but, when that blog is of a nature that might even be considered "preachy" on matters of frugality, and its writer is never shy to castigate others for what they see as "wasting money" does it strike you as a bit two-faced, dishonest even, to take a "do as I say, not as I do" approach without making it entirely clear that this IS the approach you're taking? Another good example is the "changing or vanishing history" - where stuff that was previously posted on a blog gets removed altogether or edited to change it's context. In one case I know of that even applies to the reasons why a person got into debt in the first place - originally an honest admission of having done too much "keeping up with the Jones'es" but now apparently due to mysterious "Circumstances beyond their control"...

My question is - is there any need for this? If someone wants to write a spoof blog then that's great - it will be a good read and people will flock to it for that reason - but a blog purporting to be truthful is something very different. If people are voting for a blog for awards, don't they have a right to believe that the blogger concerned is being truthful, not leaving out or even deleting things that don't suit their "theme"? If you have voted in any of the well known Blog Awards over the past few years, are you absolutely sure that the person you've voted for is all that they seem, and as honest as they claim? If there is a little niggle in your mind, then consider doing a bit of reading, and research, then you can make your own mind up, can't you... ;-)


Friday 26 June 2015

Frugal Friday...

I regularly browse through frugal blogs. Some I like, some make me shake my head in despair, and some simply seem to be a re-hash of posts that the Blog owner re-writes over and over! The best of them are a fathoms-deep source of inspiration though, from recipes on Jack Monroe to Simple Living on Down To Earth and many, many others in between.

Mine never has been a "Frugal Blog" as such - it's a blog where I talk about frugality from time to time, yes, but it also has photographs, fun and just regular life on it. My "Frugal Friday" posts came about because it felt right to categorise those sorts of posts under one heading - for ease of reference as much as anything, and, yes, because I didn't want it to turn into a "Frugal Blog" only - I've never contained it like that, never applied a heading of that sort, and don't want to restrict it in that way. It evolves where it evolves, and always has. Equally I never wanted the Frugal Friday series to go on so long that I was just doing what I dislike seeing on other blogs and just re-hashing the same old recipes, ideas and thoughts over and over...so as and when the posts didn't start flowing as well, it slowed down to the intermittent "thing" it is now. BUT in answer to the questions...yes we are still attempting to live as frugally as possible. Yes we are still paying down the mortgage - the biggest lump sum we were allowed to was paid at the start of this year and the regular overpayment sums are being stashed away in an ISA for the future. If all continues to go to plan then we have currently set a Mortgage-Free target date of 24th July 2017. Yes we're still using as many electrical items as we can overnight on cheap rate, avoiding food waste, only buying what we need, shopping around for things, earning cashback on purchases where we can and generally squirreling away whatever we can.

Over time doing the frugal thing we've learned a lot - that living life is as important as saving pennies, for a start. We budget for fun as well as food, living and enjoying ourselves is just as important as getting rid of that pesky mortgage debt! Sometimes it's necessary to balance expenditure against quality of life - a takeaway at the end of a busy week when we've both been working long hours and time together is simply more important than cooking from scratch to save the pennies for example. We buy branded coffee and Cornflakes, not value, as MrEH simply prefers the taste, and I point-blank refuse to buy value loo rolls regardless of how cheap they are! Another place where I've just run up against a personal brick wall is home made laundry liquid. In my experience it's a lot of faff to make, and then doesn't give as good a wash as the Bold powder I prefer. Now I KNOW there are a whole heap of you now queuing up to tell me I'm wrong, that it works brilliantly for you, that you make it once every 3 months and it takes ten minutes etc, but that just wasn't my experience I'm afraid, and after a lot of beating myself up and feeling as though I must persevere, I finally realised that no, I mustn't. Stained clothes with a faintly musty odour really don't do it for me - and that, I realised after a relatively short time, was what I was ending up with. Not nice. So I threw the rest away and felt a huge sense of relief. Sure I want to save money where we can - I'm happy to peel my own potatoes, crush my own garlic, use vinegar as fabric softener and colour my own hair - but I don't want it to make me miserable while I'm doing it, thanks! So I will continue to look for special offers on my big boxes of Bold and my clothes will continue to come out of the wash smelling lovely, not vaguely stagnant!

Where have you found your frugal limits are? Are there things you've tried and simply not got on with?


Friday 19 June 2015

Frugal Friday...

Ahhh...meal planning. Some people love it as an aid to making shopping easier and controlling food waste, others see it as a return to the "it's cold meat & potatoes - it must be Monday" of their childhood.  I kind of tread a middle path really - tending to use a rough 3 - 5-week plan, so avoiding the risk of slipping into a rut of eating certain foods on certain days. Over last summer as I've mentioned previously things slipped a bit on the planning front though, and I've been struggling to get back into it ever since really.

One thing I've realised the value of is meals that will "roll over" - so on a Sunday I might batch cook a couple of meals worth of potato bake...dead easy this one - just thinly slice (I use a mandolin as this gets the thinnest slices) several potatoes (or you can use sweet potatoes, or even butternut squash), and a large onion. Grate some well flavoured cheddar cheese. Build the dish up in layers - a lasagne dish is ideal for this. Start with a sprinkling of onion, layer potato on top, then a sprinkling of cheese. Repeat until the ingredients are used up, topping off with a generous layer of cheese, a touch of salt and a grinding of either pepper or nutmeg (nutmeg works AMAZINGLY with sweet potatoes!). Mix in a jug enough double cream and full-fat milk to pour over the top - it needs to *just* fall below the top layer of potato - that way you get a crispy top. Bake in the oven until it's done. Adding an egg to the milk/cream mix gives a more "custardy" centre. Ideal for popping in the oven when something else is cooking, this.  Another easy one - sausage casserole cooked in the slow cooker while we're out at work - a casserole is a great way of stretching sausages - I use 8 chipolatas or 6 regular sausages but chop each one into two or three before adding them to the pot. That quantity of sausages allows for a portion being kept back for a second meal for just one of us.

This business of meals that "roll over" - so the leftovers from one day either make a meal for the second or turn into something else for another day - works brilliantly - particularly for those of us who are out of the house for long days, and want nothing  more than something quick when we get in. Bolognese one day for example....add a tin of drained kidney beans and some chilli flakes and serve with rice the next day for a cheaty Chilli-con-Carne. The best thing about those sorts of meals too is that everyone knows such dishes taste better the second day - so an all-round win! Bolognese can also metamorphose into Cannelloni, Lasagne, and even a cottage pie with an Italian twist...a super-adaptable family favourite, and  the basic sauce is also another dish which cooks wonderfully overnight in the slow-cooker, saving you both time and money.

You don't have to start with a whole meal either. Think about how you can save time on prep of ingredients too - if you're slow-cooking sauteed onions for example, you could cook double and either set the rest aside for use the next day, or even freeze them in portions for adding straight into a sauce in the future. A pack of bacon opened on a Sunday for a bacon & eggs breakfast, can then do a Monday night dinner of pasta with Mushrooms and Bacon, and the final couple of rashers can then be stretched by chopping into pieces and used to top a pizza later in the week. That's the real beauty of "rolling over" too - getting use out of every last scrap of a food purchase by planning ahead.  That not only saves the planet (well, sort of!) but saves your precious pennies, too - something we can all do with!

Come on then - give me a hand here folks, with the airshow season underway I'm desperate for any time-savers I can muster - so what are your favourite "roll-over" meals?


Thursday 18 June 2015

Weekend 1 of many...!

Truly silly Selfie with the Chinook boys! 
Well that's the first two shows of the season done! Not the greatest of weather for either - we had little bursts of sun both days but mostly the sky was a dull fat grey/white, not conducive to many nice pictures, sadly. Still we had fun - on Saturday at Biggin we were the "default" gang - me, Claire & Tom, plus Anthony. As ever we caught up with various people through the day too, including the Red Arrows "Red 10" - Lingy - and to finally meet his lovely girlfriend properly was an unexpected pleasure too!

Sunday was a long haul on the train for me up to RAF Cosford - I'd originally decided not to do this one as the car-park was chaos last year and I had visions of not getting home until the early hours (it's a good 4 hours drive from me even without the added airshow traffic) but then realised that I could easily do it on the train, and in fact the train fare was cheaper than the diesel would have been! All went like clockwork and I arrived bang on time - I'd happily do that route in future years! A bigger group of us for this one - as well as Saturday's gang we were joined by the lovely Kate and Aunty Di (actually someone else's Aunty - but she's adopted us!) - absolutely lovely to see them again! Lots more on the fringes too - including Colin, Layna and little Logan who had made the trip down from Scotland. The shows are such a good chance to catch up with people - there are always gaps in the flying which gives you time for a natter, and natter we did!

Martin - Circus 10 - relaxing before the Reds display slot...
Lots of new people met too which is always nice - this year's Red Arrows "Circus 10" - Martin - a lovely lad who is clearly very much enjoying his backseating role this year, the new Tutor Display team Manager Andy (and a catch up with Tutor Display pilot Andy - this isn't going to be confusing at all is it! - who had to walk about 2 miles to come and find us after his promised transport from his aircraft couldn't get through the traffic!) and also as you can see above three of the Chinook Display Team lads - Brett, James and Davie who we bumped into on our way wandering through the showground as they were coming to find Kate and her promised biscuits! More biscuits were delivered to the Red Arrows PR team too - I can see that being a feature of this season!

We got to do our own little bit for the Reds PR as the team arrived overhead for display - Photographer Fletch was looking to shoot another picture for their Armed Forces Day portfolio and wanted us in the middle of it! Great fun even if it did mean that we weren't allowed to actually watch the boys arrive overhead! More on those photos and Armed Forces Day itself in a future post...watch this space!

Thoroughly looking forward to the rest of the season now - it seems like we've really got some fun ahead of us again!


Tuesday 16 June 2015

Washing Machine Head...

...Some of you will know that we have "Wind & The Wellies" Fay to thank for the title of this one. She coined it originally - that thing when all the thoughts in your head are whizzing around and around like a washing machine on a fast spin and it's impossible to interrupt the cycle in order to make any sense of anything. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was trying to work through some personal stuff, and that still applies (and no it's still not serious - well not to anyone other than the people it affects, and yes I'm still fine, thank you) - it's been lingering around for a while now and has developed into a full blown case of Washing Machine Head as a result.

When I've suffered with this in the past there have been a few things I've found that have helped. Having the ability to express exactly what is bothering me in writing helps me hugely - this blog has been useful for that to an extent, but even more so is using one of those websites where you can write completely anonymously and then choose whether to make it public or not. Most definitely not, in my case! Other options could be a completely private blog, a blog limited to just those friends you choose to invite to view it, or a "secret" Twitter account that only you know about, or even a combination of all of them - the key thing is finding what works for you and then making use of it when you need to. Writing a list of everything that is in your head in the order it spews out can also work, and one I've found massively useful - the good old "To Do" list. When your head is full of "stuff" then the fear of the important stuff getting lost amongst everything else can increase the stress levels horribly, the very last thing you need - so a simple To Do list can reduce them right back down again.

For me the biggest help by far though has been friendship. The people who know the detail of what's going on in my head at the moment have been just amazing - from being willing to listen to me rambling on (yes, sorry about that!), to knowing that if I just wander off for a bit mumbling only the sketchiest of explanations the right thing to do is leave me be for a few minutes to collect myself together and then to come and find me with a cuppa and a doughnut (Well, doughnuts fix everything, no? *grin*). The people who understand that, when I suddenly just go quiet, I need a few moments with them saying nothing, but just being there. They're the ones that know that being *too* sympathetic to me in person when I'm like that will result in an embarrassing (for me, at least) soggy-tissue situation. (Why, when we're feeling emotionally vulnerable, does people being lovely to us have the ability to reduce us to tears? I mean how the hell is THAT fair?!)  Beyond that tiny group are another lot - who while they don't know *what* is up, know that something is, and so have been taking the time to message me to check I'm OK, or simply to distract me with laughs and cheeriness and the promise of more fun to come through the summer. When the black dog lands on your shoulder it can be tricky as hell to shake off, but without question one of the best ways I know of doing so is to find a way to clip on its lead and take it for a walk in the sunshine!

This is very possibly one of the scariest blog posts I've ever written - and at the moment I have no idea if it will ever see the light of day. I certainly won't be tweeting about it if I do hit publish, so if you've found it it's probably because you're a regular reader - bless you for that. Although I sometimes have a moan or a rant on here I very rarely lay myself quite so bare as this post feels like it has and I'm wary of  people trying to second guess stuff, or putting two and two together to make six...like I said this is categorically not anything terrible, or life changing, or anything like that, it's just some *stuff* that I'm needing to work through, ok? I'm not looking for advice, or "poor you" or anything like that (hence comments are disabled for this one), it was just suggested to me that sometimes answering "Everything OK?" with the standard "Yes, fine" is counterproductive. And it is - sometimes you need to stand up and say - even if only to yourself - no, you know what, everything is NOT OK. After all, if you can't be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with?


Friday 12 June 2015

Here we go again!

Tomorrow I'm off to my first airshow of the 2015 season - and I can hardly wait! Claire, Tom, Kate & I have a lot planned for this summer and as well as the shows and Reds displays themselves there is looking like being a lot of fun around the periphery of it all too from what we're being told! Claire & Tom have already been to one show - up at Llandudno in North Wales - but we were off on Lundy at the time so I missed that one. There will be several new shows for me this year as well as one in a Country I've not seen the Reds display in before - more on that once it's happened!

One slight dampener on the season is the temporary loss of Britains only flying Lancaster Bomber PA474 "Thumper" following an engine fire while she was up on a display practise last month - the poor chap who was flying her is getting no end of stick about having broken her! We're hopeful to see her in the air later in the season once all the repairs have been done but exact dates aren't known at the moment - we're just glad that if it had to happen it wasn't LAST year when of course we were all eagerly looking forward to the Canadian Lancaster touring over here, anyone who saw their twin display can't have helped but have a tear in their eye...

...the turn for tears this year will be for another bomber - Vulcan XH558 - as sadly due to the age and number of hours on the airframe she will be bowing out at the end of the season. Considering we originally thought that her final flying season would be 2013 we've been really lucky to get an extra couple of seasons out of her I guess - it'll still be sad to see her at the end of the season for the final time though. Her display schedule so far suggests that I will have 6 opportunities to see her display this season - plenty of time for a particularly elusive shot that I've been wanting to got for a few seasons now!

I'm hoping to have a few opportunities to photograph the Reds on the ground again this season as I'm keen to run with my "Circus At Work" photo project again. Once again there are a few chaps I know on the frontline crews going round the shows - and after how well received last years shots were I'd love to have the chance to do something similar for this year's gang! 2014 Circus 9 - the lovely Kev Smith - is back in the same role again, one of last year's Dye Team members, irrepressible Geordie SAC James Robinson is backseating with Red 2, and last year's Circus 4 - Corporal Nicky Cunningham - will be on the road with the team also looking after the documentation - a role he combined with his circus duties a fair amount of the time last season! Nicky's also getting some more time in the backseat of the jets this year which he's understandably very pleased about! The Photographic team guys start the season unchanged too - my fellow beer-drinker SAC Adam Fletcher (Award-winning, dontcha know!), Corporal Steve Buckley - owner of the fantastic HUGO, and SAC Craig Marshall - albeit sadly Craig will be moving to pastures new shortly. Aside from there there are plenty of new chaps to get to know!

I don't expect there will be a lot of time to pause for thought from now through until September, so blogging might be sporadic again, but as you know I'd far rather be out "doing and enjoying" rather than on social media talking about it!

Bring it on!


Monday 8 June 2015

(Anti) Social Media...

Most people are agreed, social media is a pretty good thing. Let's face it, without it we wouldn't be chatting here now, would we?! It enables us to keep in touch with those we might otherwise lose contact with - those people who can't form a part of our everyday lives either due to distance or circumstances, but who we wouldn't want to lose contact with entirely, either. In some cases it also lets us rekindle old friendships that have drifted away for whatever reason - last year my best friend from Primary school and I found one another again due to the wonders of the internet - I knew she had become a quite successful actress (which was precisely what she always wanted to do, so yay for her!) but had been unable to track down any form of contact for her until she popped up on Twitter. SO lovely to be back in touch with the person who features in so many of my childhood photos! iMessage lets me stay in touch with a very good pal who spends too much of her life back in the USA, and better than that, it lets a whole group of us who are a close unit hang out and chat together. Sometimes social media even lets us make new friends - My aviation-photographing Partner-In-Crime Claire and I met after I saw her stuff on Twitter, then spotted her standing at the fence at Scampton. Within a few minutes we'd sussed we were kindred spirits with an identical mad streak and that was that! Similarly my pal Ross first made contact by messaging me on there after seeing some of my photos - that then lead to my Very Exciting Project last year too which would never have taken off (pun intended) without Twitter either!  One of my very very bestest chums in the whole world (yes, we're secretly five year olds!) & I met through an internet forum in the first place - not having her in my life now is unthinkable, but without the WWW we'd probably never had crossed paths.

Sometimes though, Social Media is very much NOT a good thing. It can be abused by those who have "ulterior motives" - take as an example the very public trolling suffered by celebrities including Tom Daley and more recently Sue Perkins - how on earth can ANYONE consider it reasonable to suggest that they would like to see someone burn to death? Forums have for years provided outlets for those spineless bullies who would not in real life have the courage to say boo to a goose to pick on those they perceive as weaker than them and this now seems to be moving on to other forms of social media too. Sometimes this can take the form of outright unpleasantness, at others it's more of a quiet picking away at a person, designed to make them feel progressively worn down. Sometimes it is, I think, as simple as the bully needing to feel better about their own life by denigrating the lives and choices of others. A very close friend of mine has been completely put off one social media outlet where she used to post regularly due to just this latter sort of behaviour - the problem is that the perpetrator is so sly and clever about it there is little that those of us who have seen it can do without them being able to come back and just say "Oh but I only meant..... I'm upset that you've taken it that way" thus deploying the attention and sympathy back to themselves. Don't get me wrong, a number of us know she's doing it, but actually pinning down anything black and white enough to say "that's out of order" about is tricky. The world of the "Keyboard Commando" is a strange one - and in a lot of cases the phrase "you need to get out more" can seemingly be applied very literally to them - so often these seem to be people who have very little "real life" interaction, and some form of balance is required, I think.

Other "questionable" uses for Social Media to me include those who seem to "friend collect" on FB. OK, so you've got 567 "friends" on there - really? I mean, honestly? Firstly I bet only a fraction of those would know you if they passed you in the street, and secondly, no, that doesn't make you better than anyone else. (I overheard someone recently asking someone else "Oh, so a real friend, or a facebook friend? and I kind of knew what they meant - there seems to be two definitions now). Then there are those who are mostly on FB for self-promotion - and no, I'm not talking about promoting a business or similar, but those who's every second post is essentially telling you how wonderful they are and how fabulous their lives are. Well sorry, I have news for you - if you WERE that wonderful you'd crack on and DO all this stuff without feeling the need to be constantly searching for pats on the back! I have a friend (real, not just FB!) who does an INCREDIBLE amount for her charity of choice - and yet she just quietly gets on with it - she has separate feeds on Social Media for her charity stuff and occasionally posts stuff from there into her personal feeds yes, but you never see a "look at me" post from her. Another friend volunteers on a regular basis for a charity that helps those affected by alcohol abuse in others - and again, she just gets on and does it. Special mention in this category goes to those who use Social Media for Social Climbing...crawling all over people while they are "useful" to them and dropping them like hot-cakes as and when someone more "useful" comes along. Just stop it - go and get a life of your own and stop trying to steal everyone elses.

The other potential problem with the "instant gratification" provided by social media is the anxiety it can cause. WHY has so-and-so not "liked" that Instagram Photo or Facebook Post? What does that person mean by that comment about how badly they've been treated - are they talking about me? I know X read that iMessage I sent them so does the fact that they've not replied mean I've upset them? Does the fact that I've not replied mean they think they've upset ME? Don't even get me started on those wretched ticks on WhatsApp! Another anxiety causer can simply be that tendency to be connected to EVERYONE in our lives ALL the time, meaning that on the entirely inevitable occasion that friend Y* has upset you you have nowhere to vent that frustration where friend Y won't see it - thus risking starting the whole "is that about me" cycle all over again! In extreme cases you can see this being played out in a game of social media Tennis - FaceBook is especially good for this - as one person posts something, then another posts something that is quite clearly in reply, and so on. (A few folk *might* have been acquaintanced on my FB as a result of this.) That's one reason why I do occasionally do a rant like this on the blog - it's just the most marvellous place to say "Waahhhhhh!" without all and sundry immediately replying with "You ok?" - it's lovely that people care, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it is as simple as yes, I was  pissed off, but I've now had a nice cathartic rant and felt better...well, until I felt under pressure to explain myself as a result of 47 people all asking if I'm OK, that is!

Come on then - what are your pro's and con's of Social media? Have you shared any of these experiences? And please, I know this goes without saying but please DON'T identify anyone on here!


* I don't have a "Friend Y" so far as I know, so if you're reading this, no, it's NOT about you. Of course, some of the earlier stuff might be....there, that's given you food for thought, hasn't it... ;-)

Friday 5 June 2015

Frugal Friday...

I was having a browse around blogland the other day and found an interesting post by Fiction Burns (It resonated with me following on from the post I wrote earlier in the week about my planning and organisation for the new Airshow season, that I wouldn't go into debt to pay for the fun stuff.) It touches on choices, and saving for stuff, and living within your means, and I just read through it thinking "Yes....Yes...YES!" (and not in a "When Harry met Sally" kind of way, either!) So much of what she says matches up with my life too - although we live in a very different environment as you'll see if you read her blog!

Whether you call it frugality, thriftiness, simple living, or, dare I say it, "austerity", the whole "live more simply and save cash" movement has really grown over the last few years - in some cases because it's just had to - when the recession bit back in 2008 people did lose jobs, and more importantly for many, credit became far, far harder to come by. Thankfully by the time things started getting tough we'd already got rid of any debt we had beyond our mortgage, but for those for whom living from loan to loan and credit card to credit card was "situation normal" life changed dramatically. Our own dramatic change happened when my employment situation got messy back in 2010 - overnight my income dropped by 2/3rds and realistically speaking it is still only 50% of where it would have been by now had I stayed in the same job. Thanks to the fact that we'd already simplified our lives and our finances, and had some emergency cash in the bank, we were OK in spite of this drop - and no, before anyone says it, MrEH doesn't earn megabucks - prior to the drop I was the higher earner. In spite of the recession I managed to find work so I started earning again more or less immediately - a huge change from what I'd been doing previously but as I no longer wished to be in my old industry that suited me well. It helped that I was willing to do whatever I had to to bring in a wage too - something that a lot of young school-leavers and university graduates would do well to take heed of I suspect! We never skipped a mortgage overpayment and didn't dip into our savings at all.

So, looking at the basic stuff we've found helps to run our lives now using a similar format to that blog post that inspired me...

What it says, really - have one, know what it is, stick to it. There is only so much money coming in every month - we have a joint bank account where all joint expenses come from - mortgage, mortgage savings, bills, food, travel, car costs. The bare minimum to cover all that lot gets left in there, everything else gets transferred to savings of one sort or another. Within the main budget there are others too - for holidays, food, big annual expenses like home & car insurance. For those we divide the cost by 12 and set aside the relevant amount each month. the same for Christmas and other presents. Christmas doesn't take anyone by surprise - it's always the same date, plan for it and there should be no need for putting it on credit. (And sorry, but this point is not "different when you've got kids" either!)

Look after what you have!
If you run a car, get it serviced regularly. Check the oil level, and the tyres regularly - tyres at the correct inflation last longer and cost you less to drive on. Wash it by hand occasionally - that way you will spot any oddments of damage before they turn into a rusty problem. In fact wash it - full stop. A clean car is again more fuel efficient (yes, really!) and if you've paid good money for it then you should want it to look nice anyway! Buy good quality shoes and boots if you're going to do any amount of walking in them, and then treat them well with polish or dubbin, and get them re-heeled and soled when they require it. A decent winter coat will last you several years, the same applies to a waterproof jacket - better to spend twice as much for something that will last you four times as long. Remember to have clothes that need dry cleaning done regularly, and as for those waterproofs, wash them in a specialist cleaner not your standard washing powder, and re-proof regularly. When buying appliances research properly and buy the best you can within your budget. We've learned to our cost that buying cheaper brands of Washer/Dryer for example, backfires as they don't last the pace.

Live a little! 
Sure we could never go out, never have a takeaway, never switch our heating on, never go on holiday, never buy anything above the bare essentials. By never spending on anything not vital to live, we could obviously have paid a lot more off the mortgage by now. We could, but then again we could get run over by a bus tomorrow, and nobody ever, in their dying breath, said "Damn! I wish I'd skipped that portion of chips eaten at the seaside in order to pay a bit more off the mortgage!" did they now? ;-) We each have our own personal money every month which pays for our personal day to day expenses and individual fun. We have takeaways occasionally. We see something that looks yummy in the supermarket and think "Sod it!" and put it into the basket. We buy free range eggs, and "happy" meat, and shop at farmers markets when we can. we have weekends away (often using the tent to save money on hotels) and days out. We have a specific budget each month to set aside for "fun stuff". As a result in all the time we've been OP'ing the mortgage we've never really reached the point where we've started feeling hard done by, or like we want to pack it all in.

Be mindful:
Don't just throw things away! That item you're fed up with, or have no further use for, might be a lifesaver to someone else if they find it in the charity shop. Clothes too - pop through a wash with other items and dispatch them off to the charity shop if you no longer want, need or fit them. Try to avoid food waste too - think about portion control or come up with a plan for using leftovers. Too much pasta or rice can be combined with veggies and a light dressing to make a salad to go with the next nights meal, or to pack up for a packed lunch, and leftover bread can always be transformed into croutons, or breadcrumbs, both of which freeze brilliantly. If as you're serving out a pasta sauce, for example, it looks like you'll have more than you need, try separating out a portion which will can be frozen, rather than just ladling it all onto the plates. Buying fresh food that has been prepared for you is an expensive use of your food budget - think in particular things like onions and lettuce! Keep an eye on the fridge, larder and cupboards to make sure that things get used while they're still fresh, and have a list on the fridge that you can add items to when you know you're running low before transferring them to your shopping list - this helps stop you buying double! If you use a lot of bread then get yourself a breadmaker - our £45-ish model paid for itself inside a year - but don't take your eye off the ball as to when it's cheaper to buy rather than make - I'm talking yellow stickers! Think before you spend - and remember the cashback sites! Never shop when you're hungry or browse eBay or Amazon when you're bored!

How about you - what helps you organise your life and your finances?


Monday 1 June 2015

A degree of organisation...

...OK, I know those that know the real life me (especially those who know me really well!) are shaking their heads in grinning disbelief about now, and yes, I can understand that entirely! You'll remember that last summer was - well let's say "a bit hectic" - in a good way, but hectic nonetheless. And in spite of it being in a good way (very good, actually!)  by about August I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, people were asking me what I was doing on a given date a few weeks ahead and it felt completely impossible to keep track, and, my usual state of mild disorganisation notwithstanding, that felt very uncomfortable. I went through the entire summer with a constant nagging feeling that I was forgetting somewhere I was meant to be, or something I should have done. To add to that because I was constantly on the go, rushing from one thing to another, and when I wasn't, I was glued to the computer sorting out photos, the household stuff - both budgets and meal-planning/food - got all muddled too, and that left me feeling even MORE unsettled, and by the time the season ended in September I was feeling thoroughly befuddled and out of sorts. Not good.

This year I'm looking to attack all these issues in advance. The first thing was a diary - yes, a proper paper diary...

...and see, it even matches my rather beautiful purse that MrEH bought me for Christmas. AND it only cost £1.50 which is the sort of money I can handle paying for a diary which I know full well will almost certainly get lost at some stage in all the fun and excitement anyway. Yes I KNOW I've got a perfectly good iPhone, and that does do duty for day to day reminders of stuff, but for actual "Places I've got to be, weeks in advance" stuff, I like paper & a pen, thank you. As and when the dates were released for airshows I planned to go to were released, they got written in, along with holiday dates, the beer festival, and similar things. As time goes on I'm adding notes of travel that's booked, accommodation for various events, and where I'm staying with pals. It's quite deliberately a nice small one too - it needs to be able to fit into my handbag or my camera bag so I've always got it with me.

Next thing - Oh JOY! Was a notebook...

...and I know of a good number of readers of this who are thinking "ooh!" along with me now too! I do love a notebook, especially when it's a cheery bright yellow one with a rather cute pig on the front! (Even better I've had that one for YEARS and never quite managed to find a long term use for it - so it didn't even cost me anything!) - that's being used for noting down all the stuff that's too "wordy" for the diary - detailed notes on train travel, the collection codes for train tickets that need picking up, where I've booked accommodation for various event the details of the sites I've booked through, and whether anything has been booked as a "just in case" and might need cancelling nearer the time.  I've also got a complete list of all the shows in there - some may drop out and others may get added, but at least I've started with a list so when someone says to me "Are you doing X show?" I can (hopefully!) check and say yes or no!

On the household front a meal-plan is back in place, along with a new magnetic pad on the fridge for noting stuff that needs adding to the shopping list. We've found a more local - although smaller - farmers market which it will be viable for Ben to go to on his own on weekends I'm not about so we can return to buying our meat direct from the producer which we far prefer. A bulk meat order is also being planned. The meal plan will be being expanded to turn into a rough rolling 4 or 5 week plan which we can pick and choose meals from depending what suits, and I'm also going to be coming up with some ideas for foods that can be conveniently carried with me for the single day airshows to avoid the thing of "just grabbing a burger" which adversely affected both my bank balance AND my health last year.

On the subject of finances I have a plan there too! *grin* Since the end of last season I've been adding any spare cash to a savings account - entirely separate from from regular "fun stuff" account so I know I have a cushion of cash there to start me off with. So far it's paid for all the advance  ticket bookings, several bits of travel, and a couple of hotels too. My £2 coins from last year went there, and anything that's been left in my current account at the end of each month has also headed that way. Money left in my purse at the end of a month has been going - as usual - to my "treats tin" and the contents of that have been being paid in whenever there's been enough to make it worth it and I've been going near the bank. Once the season kicks in fully for me (not long now!) my plan is to use the regular spending money for the day to day stuff and try to leave the airshow account untouched until accommodation needs paying and stuff like that. That in itself has relieved some stress over money - I love doing all this stuff but I absolutely cannot justify getting into any sort of debt for it under any circumstances - we've fought so hard to ensure that our only debt now is the mortgage and I won't compromise that - so knowing that I've saved in advance to cover some of the bigger costs is great.

All in all my little bits of organisation feel like I'm starting the season off as well as I possibly can - there really is little more that I can do to make things go any more smoothly, which means all that remains is to look forward to a fabulous 4 months to come packed full of fun and excitement with some fantastic people. Bring it on!


Thursday 21 May 2015

On blogging (or not blogging), and "stuff"...

So, I didn't blog much from the Hebrides this year, did I. I did do a fair bit on Instagram, and on Twitter - both mediums that suit the dubious nature of internet signals up there rather better than blogging. For a start both can be done from my phone very easily, whereas blogging is easier on the laptop, and while I have the laptop with me, it has to be turned on, and a signal obtained that is actually strong enough to do anything from...and as bizarre as it sounds, if it is raining, or the wind is in the wrong direction, that's not always going to be viable!  When I blog I also tend to feel like I should post "proper" photos, from my "real" camera, rather than pics from the phone...and yes, I know that's a pressure I put on myself, not one applied by anyone else, but that doesn't make it any the less real...

When we were away in 2014 I found myself on several occasions slightly resenting "having to" do my blog post - there were other things I felt keener to do - going for a walk, or just sitting on the sofa with a book. And then I felt guilty about that, so I got on with it and blogged anyway. But you know what - we were ON HOLIDAY for goodness sake - what on earth was I thinking?! So this year I decided in advance that blogging was going to be minimised - I'd see how I went with it. I still stuck the credit on the dongle for the laptop, but then discovered when I got there that there was an intermittent 3G signal which would enable me to do almost everything I would want from the phone, so that has been struck off the list for next year.

The holiday was what I needed - no question. I've been struggling with some personal stuff for a while now - no, before you ask, nothing serious, and yes, I'm fine, thank you, it's just "stuff" that I need to work through, and work through it I will, but the fortnight away gave me the space to acknowledge that my head's not in a good place and I need to cut myself some slack to deal with it. Sometimes it's tough when you're juggling all that real life throws at you to actually step back, look at the clutter in your head, and realise that the only way it's going to fall into any sort of order is by making time and space for it to do so. This summer is looking like being another ridiculously busy one - and with the amount of fun and excitement we already seem to be having lined up for us it seems ludicrously self-indulgent to be wittering on about "needing space", but I know from experience if I don't start the airshow season in a healthy state of both body and mind, I won't last the pace - and there's no WAY I want that to happen!

So, for now, I'm going to blog as and when I feel like it. There may be photos, there may not. In the meantime though there is another bit of islandy-adventuring to come - a wee trip to Lundy Island which both sounds and looks like somewhere from the Famous Five, doesn't it! That will be my first chance ever to see one of the UK's rare-breed ponies too - the eponymous "Lundy Pony" - which is quite exciting too. There WILL be photos in due course I'm sure, but most likely not while we're there as - in the true spirit of islands, it's another place with an utterly rubbish mobile signal - hurrah!


Monday 11 May 2015

Island Hopping...

We’d hoped to be able to make a trip to one of the uninhabited Islands of the Hebrides this time round, and sure enough word came from Nick – who runs trips on his boat the “Lady Anne” – that he was planning on heading off to the Monach Isles, or Heisgeir, on Friday. You might remember we did a wildlife watching trip with Nick when we were here last year – seeing all sorts of birds including a close encounter with a White Tailed Eagle, so we knew we’d not be disappointed.

There were 10 of us in total  including nick and his crewman Duncan – plus the adorable Ruby, a black Labrador belonging to Fergus, the owner of the North Uist estate, a lovely chap universally known simply as “The Laird”. The trip across to the Monachs took just over two hours from Kallin Harbour on Grimsay and was a fabulous chance to see various areas from a completely different angle to the usual – including the North ford causeway…

…very strange to be passing underneath something so familiar from above!

The Monachs consist of 5 main islands – the tiny Stocaidh, Ceann Ear, Sibhinis, Ceann Iar and Seillaidh. All 5 are uninhabited now and have been since the 1940’s when the last residents left – previously they had had a sort of “lifeline” provided by the regular visits of the Lighthouse Board to the lighthouse on Seillaidh (Shillay) but when the lighthouse was turned off during the war those visits ceased and they felt it was just too difficult to maintain a life there with no contact with the mainland. The village now lies abandoned and derelict…

…although a couple of the buildings – the Schoolhouse and the Mission Hall – have now been restored. The schoolhouse is still used by fisherman who put in to the islands on occasion and visitors to the Island join the select band who know where to find the key! 
We walked across Ceann Ear and around Sibhinis – and could happily have spent longer than the 5 hours we had there. There was wildlife aplenty, and in common with the rest of the Hebrides glorious white sand beaches to be enjoyed.