Tuesday 28 April 2015

Hebrides Countdown 2015...

It's creeping up on us now. It always does to a degree, but with having only been over there a few months ago this year it seems to be more than usual. Oddly enough we found that this happened when we were getting ready to go at New Year, too!

I'm undecided as to what I'm going to do as far as blogging while I'm there goes this year - while I do enjoy doing it, a sporadic internet connection can make it a bit tricky at times, and I'm veering towards probably only doing very simple posts this year - a photo or two and a brief description, probably.  I will be posting pics on Instagram & Twitter though - links to my accounts there are over on the right hand side. The internet connection over there gets ever better - those with fixed broadband are now reporting something close to the kinds of speeds you can get on a standard connection on the mainland, albeit generally at a higher cost. Connecting via a dongle though tends to rely on a direct line to the mast and the wind being in the right direction...and any sort of mobile internet connection on the phone is pretty much a dead loss.


Tuesday 21 April 2015

Another "Wow!" moment...

I've been managing to keep my eye in so far as Aviation photography goes over the winter. A fair number of days spent freezing cold in various fields around Scampton watching the mighty Reds, a few trips to Coningsby and another to Barkston Heath to watch Display Pilot Andy throwing his little RAF Tutor around the sky! Best of all, Ross  arranged for me and three friends, Claire (of course!) Kate & Sarah to spend a day on base at Scampton back in January - how ace is that boy eh?! Fantastic from my perspective to be able to get a bit of a head start on this year's ground shots - I managed to get a fair few of Ross, Nicky and others working, and was also able to catch up with several pals from last season, which was great!

A jet on the winter line with techies waiting for the pilots to crew-in
Instructions were to report to the Guardroom at 10am sharp, which we did - Ross came out and collected us and took us in to get passes. Quite a procedure, we had to provide photo ID, and have pictures taken too. All details get checked and then checked back against the ID you've provided. As Claire and I have discovered since though - once you've been in once it gets a LOT quicker the next time! Then it was time to head through onto base. Once in and with the cars parked up it was yet more paperwork - safety notes to be read and signed, and yet more passes to be issued - these being the ones which would allow us outside onto the edge of the ASP with the live jets. Ross took us into the Reds Hangar so we could see in there - not many jets in as most were out on the line ready for the days practise flying. Ross & Perty's jet from last season XX311 was tucked up indoors though so we had a look around her. With time to kill before the next scheduled practise and the weather being freezing cold we hung about in the corridor and before long James who I met when he was on Dye Team last season came along and stopped for a chat. He's been selected for "Circus" this year and had just had his first backseat ride in one of the Reds Hawks a couple of days before which he was still grinning about so it was great to hear all about it and see how excited he was! He'll be riding with Red 2 - Flt. Lt. Mike Bowden - during the 2015 season and will be one of those I'll be focusing on heavily for this year's groundshots project so expect to be "meeting" him before all that long. Word was clearly spreading as while we were chatting with him, Stu (last year's Circus 10) appeared "I heard you were here!" he said - fab to be able to catch up not least as it sounds as though he's going to be office based this season so we will almost certainly not be seeing anything of him out around the shows.

Time then to brave the cold and head outside - Ross "parked" us on the patch of concrete just back from the line of jets with instructions to, essentially "stay there and don't move!" before whizzing off to assist with getting the jets ready for the sortie. Before long the pilots appeared - it was nice that the "new boys" Mike, Emmet and Tom all recognised me and Kate from Blackpool back in September. Red Ten - "Lingy" shouted hello over to us as he came out as well and we got waves from several of the others who recognised us.

Ross realising the downside of taking me onto base is having a camera pointed at him again!
Interesting as always watching the process of them crewing in - it was a six-ship practise, meaning 6 jets went up, but Lingy went along for the ride in Red 4's backseat and Red 9 was riding with 5 so quite a lot to be done. Ross & Nicky were fulfilling the roles of assisting the backseaters with crewing in and then making the final safety checks on each jet before they taxied off the line. It is also their responsibility to give each pilot the final "OK" as they roll out past them, checking that nothing is out of place and things like footsteps are safely stowed. One small part out of place can cause chaos with the way the aircraft handles in the air, particularly when close formation aerobatics are involved, so this final "sign off" is a vital part of the procedure. Oh, I should mention, Ross hasn't actually put on several stones in weight over the winter - it honestly was a bitterly cold day and he was wearing many, many layers!

Waiting for the jets to taxi past for final "thumbs up"
As Ross had work to do (obviously, that was what he was there for after all!) after lunch he handed us over to two of the team's resident photographers, Steve and Craig, to "babysit" us for the afternoon and it rapidly became clear that the excitement was far from over as their plan for us was to take us out to the tower where they film every training sortie from! Every sortie whether a display or training is filmed for debrief purposes afterwards. Following them out to the tower was nervewracking for poor Kate who had been elected to drive us out - not least as the rest of us had by now descended into giggles at the amazing day we were having! Once out there we watched as Steve and Craig set the camera gear up and then it was a case of waiting for the jets...except as we waited a HUGE black cloud was approaching, not what anyone wanted at all! Eventually the call came in that we'd been half expecting - the sortie was postponed. Once the guys had packed the gear away again we all piled back to the office for very welcome cups of tea - if we'd thought it was cold over on the line in the morning that's nothing to how bitter it gets by the tower! A while later and with the weather having sorted itself out the phone rang confirming that the pilots were getting ready to walk to the jets so back we went and this time all went to plan and we saw a practise from a truly unique perspective - amazing having everything happening so close!

Brilliant to get the chance to work alongside the team photogs too although having to remember to duck when they panned the camera round towards us was entertaining! 

Having the jets pass directly over your head on some of their passes is always pretty cool, but when it's happening ALL the time and the display  is all happening directly in front of you it's even better.

All in all it was an absolutely amazing day and yet again we found ourselves saying "wow!" a lot! No matter how often stuff like this happens it never stops being the most amazing thrill, and I'm so grateful to those who have made everything possible.

The start of the airshow season is now approaching and I'm starting to get plans in place for places to go, travel and accommodation. In a lot of places there will be a whole gang of us going - Bournemouth should be a total party and one or two other shows will be much the same. By booking travel in advance I'm hoping to keep costs as low as possible too - although this is never going to be cheap! It'll be fun though!


Friday 17 April 2015

Frugal Friday...

Well frugality continues here in spite of me not having been blogging about it. The big news is that we won our battle with Virgin Money - the Financial Ombudsman ruled in our favour* and informed VM that no, it was not reasonable to try to change the T's and C's on a fixed rate deal. We were able to overpay the lump of money that we were stopped from paying thanks to their actions, and they were ordered to pay us a small amount in compensation and to return the account to the state it would have been in if we had been able to make all our planned overpayments as and when we wished to. The ruling had to be referred back once as VM had fibbed in the information that they had provided the Ombudsman with - not a good plan for a financial organisation, really! Finally though it was all resolved and we got precisely what we were wanting from it at the start of this year - it felt good to be proved right and to have confirmed that we were correct in what we were saying. Our contractual payment has now been adjusted back to the correct amount and we have overpaid our full 10% for this year already. There is now just over 33k outstanding on the mortgage, and the overall rate of descent has slowed considerably as we have hit our 10% overpayment limit. We always knew this would happen, and the balance of what we would otherwise be paying is being carefully stashed away into an ISA. Our plan is currently that if all continues to go to plan we will be in a position to clear the mortgage immediately once the fixed rate ends. The next "big goal" for the mortgage will be to get sub 30k on the balance - that will happen later this year - and then to build up sufficient in savings that we have more sitting there than we have outstanding on the mortgage - that will be the point when we really know we've got it beaten, I guess!

On the subject of ISA's - have you remembered to sort yours out for the new financial year?  Our 2014/15 account was a 1 year "regular saver" one so that changed to a standard ISA early this month and the interest rate dropped. I've opened a new regular saver ISA for 2015/16 - handily enough the one from our current banking provider was one of Martin Lewis's recommended products, that suits me well as it means I can do everything through our normal online banking with no complicated Direct Debits to set up to move money about and no waiting for money to land when you transfer it - it all happens immediately. The two old ones are, at the moment, going to stay where they are I think. The interest rates they are on are in line with the best that we're going to get for a standard instant-access account, which at the moment is what we want, and we will revisit things in a few months if interest rates have changed in the mean time. I'll also keep my eyes open for any outstanding deals launching on instant access accounts that accept transfers in - again Martin's MoneySavingExpert site and weekly email will be my source of information for that. Oh, and if you're reading this and you have ANY sort of savings and no ISA - why not? You're presumably putting that money *somewhere* - so unless it's a bank account with a high interest rate (Nationwide offer an account with a 5% rate on up to 2,500 for a year, and Santander's 123 Account also pays interest - I think 3%) that actually pays a higher rate even after tax than you'd be getting from an ISA, you'd do better by far to open one of the tax-free beauties and throw your treasure in there instead.

Our "Virtual Sealed Pot" savings did indeed pay almost entirely for our New Year trip to the Hebrides - which was rather good! It did slightly astonish me just how much cash you can stash away like that in the space of just a couple of years, and it's started us thinking about what to do with the next lot - because yes, of course we're continuing with it! Current thinking is that we've always wanted to visit St Kilda so we may try to factor that in for our Hebrides visit next year, using the VSP money to pay for the trip. Once again last year we saved our loose change and any money we found on the street too and that has formed a good basis of our holiday spending money - nearly 50% of it, in fact! The balance will come from the money we've not spent from our dedicated food-budget account - £150 goes into there each month but usually there is a balance left over and that all adds up.

We're still meal-planning and shopping around. Circumstances have been such that we've not been able to get to the Farmer's market recently - I do so wish we had a good one locally! The farm shop still gets used fairly regularly though, and we try to pick up bits and bobs from local shops when we're out and about - a trip to Norfolk recently saw us heading back with local cheeses, Norfolk Pink potatoes and free range eggs from the campsite we were staying on, and we STILL haven't used the large building with the name starting with "T" in Sheringham, either!

All in all, things are still good. Financially, things are heading in the right direction and we seem to be on target to meet our goals. I've been putting some of my personal money aside as and where I can to help towards the costs of the Airshow season which will be starting again for me in June. My £2 coin savings from last year went to that cause too, as did some money I was given as a gift at Christmas. I'll still be working to a strict budget but it's nice to feel that I've got at least a bit of a starting cushion at least. I'm also trying to make the most of booking stuff early for that - firstly because then I know the money is there and secondly as often that works out cheaper than leaving things until the last minute. At some stage we're going to need a new washing machine as our current one is not at all healthy. As it's a cheap washer-dryer we have been advised that it won't be worth a repair - which is rather annoying. This time round we intend to spend a little more on a slightly better one as this one doesn't seem to have lasted long at all. We're nursing it
along for as long as we can though! Nothing gets an easy way out in our house!


*If you know of anyone who had a Northern Rock "Together" Mortgage which rolled over to Virgin Money when VM was split up then please point them at this post as they may well also be affected. So far as we are aware those customers with NRAM are not affected. If anyone reading this IS affected and wants to know how to go about challenging it please get in contact through comments and we'll be happy to help.

Thursday 16 April 2015


You already know from my posts last year about all the astonishing things that happened over the summer that I do consider myself to be very lucky, and one of the things I think I'm luckiest about is the fantastic friends I've made over the last year - many of whom would LOVE to have had my life last summer, but have been overwhelmingly excited for me, supportive and just generally lovely. However, it's inescapable that over these last few months social media has revealed a few people who don't feel that way - either about the fab things that have happened to me, or in some cases, about fab things that have happened to others too. Some of the comments I've seen have gone from veiled comments saying how others feel they they deserve this sort of thing far more than "those it's happened to", to rather less veiled comments questioning what exactly I might have done, and with who, in order to have had the opportunities I have. (Bit of a brave one that, and pretty close to being challengeable on the grounds of defamation in fact...)

Some people have at least been upfront in their bitching - which is actually better, in a lot of ways. Take the person who said "Of course you're really lucky to have been in the right place to get these shots" about my Red Arrows display photographs. Lucky, is it? Well that's interesting, because if that's "luck" then it's precisely the same "luck" as everyone else had - every public display I've been to this year has been available for anyone who wanted to attend, and the position I have chosen to stand in to take said shots was - exactly the same - available for anyone who wanted to stand in. It's just I got there first, mostly. *grin* For every single display, I planned my travel to ensure that I would be there in good time, and, where possible, I checked out the location ahead of time on streetview to work out where I thought the best vantage point for my purposes might be. Weston Super Mare is a good example - planning on standing with a friend for the duration of the show, we did the streetview check in advance in combination with checking the show's details online. The afternoon previous to the show I was already in the area so took a quick drive through there to clarify whether in fact the spot we'd picked out looked good - it did, and we got the most fabulous day of aircraft turning pretty much right overhead - making for a lovely spot to watch from. Luck? Or planning? One of my favourite shots from that spot is this one:

...of the Reds arriving over the top of the pier. As soon as we got there I checked on my lenses to decide which one would give me the aspect I wanted. A couple of hours before display time I tweeted one of the team's pilots - a PUBLIC tweet - so again something that ANYONE could have done - to ask for confirmation on which direction they were coming in from. I'd already researched that one in advance, too, so my thoughts on the matter turned out to be spot on. I got my shot, and very happy with it I am, too. Is it "Luck" though, or is it (and indeed ALL my display shots) down to hard work, preparation, and a willingness to ask questions rather than just rock up and expect things to fall into place? Oh, and in answer to those who've suggested that "of course with expensive kit like yours anyone could get those shots...", that one above was taken with the £70 canon 50mm f1.8 lens....so yes, I agree entirely... ;-)

Another comment stopped me in my tracks completely at the end of last year. In conversation with someone over what a particular friend from the team was going to be doing this year - the person I was speaking with expressed sympathy having heard that my friend had not got the particular role he was hoping for, then said "that's a shame for you, then, he'll be no use to you any more!" Well I was stopped short for a moment - genuinely confused, what on earth they could mean by that? Then I realised - the person I was speaking with honestly thought that the friendship had been forged by me in order to get closer to the team...and that as my friend was no longer going to be in a role that has the same "possibilities" on that front, I'd be dropping him like the proverbial hot potato! Now, don't get me wrong, I know people who would do precisely that, but I'm definitely not one of them, and in fact in this case the initial hand of friendship was extended by the other person in any case! I was almost lost for words (and those who know me know how unusual THAT is!) but eventually settled for saying that it made no odds to me what my friend's job was, so as far as I was concerned it made no odds to the friendship. I doubt the person making the outrageous statement believed me for a moment, but I don't care very much, to tell you the truth, anyone who thinks like that isn't important enough to matter, and my friend is worth 10....no, 100 of someone with that attitude. (Regardless of the job he does and whether it involves a blue suit, or not!) Interestingly enough, the person who made the comment has since pretty much dropped *me* - clearly I'm now seen as not being any "use" any more, too!

The ONLY opportunities I had last year where "luck" has played a part have been the time spent at Bristol & Blackpool airports, and at families day. Those opportunities were given, and given gladly, as people had seen the work I'd done previously with the ground-shots, and had liked what they'd seen. I've ensured that all the ground shots I've taken at the various shows and locations have been available for those who featured in them, and where people wanted a particular photo taken (with family members, for example) I've happily helped out, and then sent them through the pics afterwards. I've not used my photos to ridicule people, where I've had shots with someone pulling a ludicrous facial expression, or with a finger inserted up a nostril, for example (Yes, it has happened!) then those shots have been deleted and not sent public via Twitter or elsewhere. At families day (the ONLY non-public display I've been at all year) when I took pictures of one of the pilots with his young son, he had no issue with me taking those shots because he knew full well that he a) would get copies afterwards and b) could trust me not to put them out on social media. It's about trust, and respect, and both of those things have to be earned - from BOTH sides.  None of the shots I took were taken with any idea of "earning privileges" or getting something in return - I've taken them because I've enjoyed doing so, and the main reward has been seeing the pleasure that others have taken in them, also.

So - to clarify. If spending time talking to people and discussing what they do, their likes and dislikes, and in fact all the normal things that happen when you're chatting with friends, can be classed as "doing something I shouldn't have" then clearly I have, and shame on me, eh. There is a massive risk involved in bandying around suggestive remarks regarding others, and the damage it could cause in some relationships could be irreparable. Thankfully MrEH is well aware of the truth of the situation - and in fact spent much of the summer joking about me being "off with my other men" - not the action of a man who feels he has ANYTHING to worry about in that line! When I have been handed opportunities I've said my Thank You's for them promptly, and been genuinely delighted to have spent time with the people concerned - they're a great bunch and it was an absolute pleasure getting to know them. I've not spent time bitching on social media about what other people have been doing - I spent my summer enjoying the chances I've had, and making the most of every single second of them. Just maybe, if others had done the same, they'd have had more "luck" themselves, eh?!


Wednesday 15 April 2015

Hebrides Countdown...

Well yes, it appears to be that time of year again! Thoroughly looking forward to going back - having only been there a few months ago hasn't dampened enthusiasm in the slightest!

We're staying in the same place as last year, the familiarity is good on several levels - firstly knowing your way around a place means you don't waste time on settling in, working out where to put things, where to find other things and how to work a further set of things. Secondly we loved where we were last year - the location was great and being within walking distance of a rather fine beach was just superb. We spend a fair bit of time around the West of the island, so staying on that side actually makes a lot more sense for us. Add to that the fact that we've actually saved money on the places we stayed previously, and it really is a win-win situation!


Monday 13 April 2015

Well goodness me...

... *she says brightly* - it's been a while, hasn't it? Everyone OK I hope? All present and correct? I've been mithering for a while on what I should do with this. I mean, I think it sort of lost its direction, but that's a bit daft after all, it's had a change of direction or several in the past and always survived the experience, hasn't it? Maybe the answer is just to let it meander along to itself for a bit and see where it wants to end up. I've always kind of felt that without pictures there's no point in posting - after all it *did* start life as a photo blog...but chatting with some very smart, sensible and lovely chums over the weekend, we all reached the same conclusion - that actually first and foremost we write for ourselves...NOT FOR ANYONE ELSE! So here I am, ready to ramble about...well, whatever. I think there will more often or not be photos...I mean, more often than not I've been taking them, so it seems silly not to show them to you, too!

So - after my fabulously exciting summer, where did I go from there? Well, quite predictably I think everything went a bit flat and empty feeling for a while. It wasn't just me - a good pal had a simultaneous "isn't life shit" few weeks back in October/November too - which would have helped mightily if we'd done the sensible thing and actually talked about it...but of course we didn't.  Of course the bottom line as both of us have since realised is that really, life isn't shit at all, it's jolly good fun mostly, but after the sheer amount of fun and fabulousness we both had through the summer, it was inevitably going to feel like nothing exciting was ever going to happen again when it all finished! Ah well, you live and learn, and then you start all over again with plotting and planning exciting things! The winter has certainly had some fun crammed in to it as well - lots of time spent with lovely friends both in Lincolnshire and elsewhere. MrEH and I went up to the Hebrides for a week over New Year - just amazing to see the islands at a different time of year and we planned our travel to incorporate the "beach landing" on Barra, too.

Bit of a dream come true that - it's been on our list for a LOT of years! Also confirmed 100% for me that I love flying regardless of the size of aircraft too - this little 15 seater was the smallest thing I'd flown on but I loved it! Half the reason for going over was to ascertain how we found  the place in the winter months - we were wary about lack of daylight ion particular, but in fact it proved to be none too bad. The light during the day on a bright day is just incredible - absolutely beautiful, so you can forgive the fact that there's not much of it until 9am!

The weather bothered us a lot less - albeit we experienced a good mix in the week we were there from snow, beautiful sunshine as you see above, and some very heavy winds. (That's very heavy winds of the "don't go out in this unless you actually need to" type - which up there really means that you should avoid going out!) Interestingly though there was no weather during that time worse than we've encountered before with one exception, which was icy roads - something we were greeted with on arriving on Uist. We know already about the potential for days and days of strong winds and driving rain, so that came as little surprise, and snow is actually relatively unusual. All in all it was a successful visit, confirming to us that actually, in the long term, the Hebrides would suit us quite nicely.  We're off up there again soon, too - looking forward to a fortnight staying in the same place as last year. There is also another "Island" trip to look forward to as we're joining a large party of friends on Lundy for a week. They've been after us to go with them for years but this is the first opportunity we've had.

Once back from both of those trips I will be back into the thick of the airshow season again pretty much immediately - lots planned again this year, Claire and I have had our heads together plotting trips pretty much since the Reds released their display schedule last month. Looks like once again we will each be doing a few shows that the other can't manage but hopefully the vast majority we'll be together. All in all, we're looking forward to another fun-packed summer, whatever it may bring!