Friday 11 November 2016


Today is not for commercialism, or commercialisation.
It is not for dwelling on the present, but for thinking about the past.
Today is not for promotion, or indeed self-promotion.
Today is not for glitz, or bling.
It matters not how shiny or fancy or shiny your poppy, but just that you wear one.
Today is not about noise, and bustle.
It is about quiet reflection, and pausing to remember.
It is unimportant where that reflection & remembrance happens,
What matters is simply that you DO remember.
Today is not about you, but about them.

For those who gave their today, that we may have ours.
For those who never returned home.
For those who returned, but not as the person their loved ones knew previously.
For all those who served, and those who continue to serve.
For those missing family members and friends today, as a result of that service.

Thank you.

Frugal Friday...

Regular readers probably already know that I'm a member of the MSE Forums, posting mostly on the Debt Free Wannabe boards. I've been on there for years - and got SO much help from folk when we were first in the position of sorting out our finances - now I mostly tend to try to "repay" that by posting in support of others, as well as keeping up with a few longer term chums who had a longer journey to travel to get their debts cleared. My time for regular volunteering is limited - during the summer in particular I would struggle to commit many hours, but posting in support on the DFW boards is something I CAN do.

We see some truly sad stories on there - people arrive for all sorts of reasons, but the most common one is that they've suddenly realised that if they don't do something about their finances, and fast, they're going to go under. We call that their "Lightbulb Moment" or LBM - and it hits people in all sorts of ways - some are absolutely devastated, literally in bits, you can hear the tearfulness in their posts. Others are grimly determined. others still are in a blind panic and have no idea what they need to do next. Generally speaking you know within someone's first few posts whether they've truly had their LBM, though, and every now and again we get one who just doesn't *quite* "get it". Recently someone arrived on the boards who was without question at the stage of not really having realised that she was on a downwards slide. Her initial post was saying how hard it was to make ends meet, and asking in a tone of some desperation  how everyone else does it. I posted with our usual advice - that the person needs to prepare a Statement Of Affairs (SOA) so they know exactly where their money is going - in this case I noticed from previous posts that she'd been advised previously to do this but had never done so - this always rings alarm bells. Her first post also revealed that she'd consolidated debts previously, and was paying that consolidation loan off. Now consolidation is one of those things that can work for some people, but before going down that route you REALLY need to have your house in order financially - without that, you're going to repeat the same cycle and double the debt in no time. I asked if she actually knew how much her debt totalled - she said yes she did, named a figure, then proceeded to tell us about the two car loans and a loan for furniture as well...oh dear!

It's really tough if someone is just part-way there. We try to be patient, a lot of the time it's about keeping on repeating the same things. "You need to do your SOA" "You need a budget" "You need to know whether your outgoings are greater than your income" - and that last really IS the thing is all hinges on. I guess the real answer to the "how do you do it" question is to know exactly how your finances stand - once you have that information you know whether you should have a surplus, whether your income is over committed, and then you can work things out accordingly. Without that very basic info, though, you're scuppered. In this instance, she started getting hostile, she wanted someone to come along and agree with her I think, but that was never going to be helpful. She'd already told us that she had several hundred pounds per month "spare" but had no idea where it was going - someone suggested she started keeping a spending diary - to which she responded that she would "from next month" - err, no, you need to get a grip on this NOW! Someone said that they felt she'd not yet had her LBM, and others posted agreeing, and finally, after a lot of resistance and arguing, the penny dropped and she suddenly "got it".

It remains to be seen if that person actually sees things through this time. Honestly, looking at her history of consolidation, overspending, failure to budget and more consolidation, I doubt it, but we've done all we can. It's truly over to her now, and frankly, she's still failing to see her consolidation loan as "debt" and still quibbling over the basic stuff. Bottom line is if you're in debt, and struggling, only you can make the decision to break the cycle and sort it out. Others can offer help, and support, but the legwork has to be done by the individual. There is SUCH a culture of borrowing in the western world now, it's not surprising that people do get into trouble. Credit cards can be fantastic tools, used correctly. When they're used to enable someone to have a higher standard of living than their income allows, though, that's just plain dangerous. Thankfully the banks are starting to wake up to this now and are acting accordingly. The tendency to simply increase credit limits without reference to the customer is dying out - and unusual spending patterns tend to get picked up on. Mortgage companies have far tighter rules on borrowing now than they did - when we took our mortgage out in 2003 it was a 110% Mortgage - these are rightly pretty much non-existent now. We knew we could afford ours but how many people took these out and then found themselves struggling?  I'd happily use a 0% on purchases credit card for a larger spend, but only once I'd saved and know that the money is safely stashed away to clear the debt when the 0% deal ends. I'd just find it too stressful otherwise, to be honest. I actively enjoy budgeting for things - I love a nice surprise, but a nasty financial one is never pleasant, after all!


ps - if you're struggling with debt, do visit the forums at for help, advice and support.

Friday 7 October 2016

Frugal Friday...

Well following on from last Friday's momentous action, we now need to make some decisions about where we go from here. Yes the long term aim is still Hebrides - but the time is not right quite yet for that. We ARE now in a position where if the right property was to come up for sale up there, we may consider taking a look, though. So with that aim in mind something we will definitely NOT be doing is blowing our new-found "spare" cash on exotic holidays or flashy new cars. But then you knew that already, right?

Things have changed immensely since we first started the onslaught on our finances back in 2008. Thankfully unlike so many people we never saw our home as a status symbol, so the temptation to over stretch ourselves when we originally took out our mortgage was never there.

Back in 2008 we had the mortgage, overdrafts and a loan. All of these seemed utterly normal to us at the time, although as soon as it was pointed out that there was an alternative we instantly grasped the benefits! We do seem to have a culture in the UK (although I'm assured it is similar in other parts of the western world) where living off credit is simply the "norm" - and while for some people there genuinely isn't an option around this, for the vast majority it's just that they want "stuff"without taking the time to save for it first. Martin Lewis makes a valid point about "Good" debt - for example a mortgage, for education, or for a car to provide essential transport to work or as a lifeline for those living in an area without good public transport. I'd add to that the costs that good friends of mine recently found themselves facing - that of immigration costs to enable them to live in the same country - and also in some cases to facilitate higher quality medical care than is available on the NHS in a person's local area. (Although whether this last *should* ever be required is a different subject which we'll not be getting into here!)

First job when we started this was to tackle where our money was going - on paper there was a surplus, when in fact....umm, no. Bank statements were examined. Takeaways and random unplanned treats were reined in, and the overdrafts vanished. We turned our attention to the car loan - that was paid off in 13 months rather than the 30 that it was scheduled for. Then the mortgage, and we all know where that ended now! In theory there should have been a hiccup in the middle where my income fell dramatically - in fact overnight it fell by over 50%, and is now probably still less than 50% of where it would have been had I stayed on my previous career path. There WAS no hiccup because we were already living a LONG way below our means through choice. There are aspects where we have been fortunate, but very few of these are "luck" as such - our household income is good, and our outgoings are low, but we have chosen for them to be low. Our mortgage was not a big one - but again that was a conscious choice to an extent. For a long while our property didn't appreciate in value much at all - none of the big killings that others have been able to make on property for us - but that didn't matter as we had no intention of moving on until such time as we'd paid off the mortgage anyway.  Interest rates have - by the standards of the 80's when I grew up - been low, albeit we didn't get the benefit of the super-low rates that some folk are seeing now.

Now our plan is to increase our personal spending money a little - and also increase our food budget a little per month too - to allow for more frequent purchases of things that would previously have been a treat, fresh fish for example. We'll continue to use the farmers market and local suppliers where we can. Our "joint fun" budget will increase a wee bit too. We plan to increase spending a little on weekends away - not necessarily to have more of them (god knows I'm rarely at home during the summer, anyway!) but to allow ourselves slightly less "budget" accommodation in the places where we would be going anyway, on occasion. Sometimes a Travelodge suits us perfectly, at other times a "nice" hotel will make for a more enjoyable trip. The actual mortgage money itself will still be heading straight into our savings accounts, the extra spending above will be funded from the "extra" money that we've previously diverted to the "overpayments" account - and THAT needs a new name allocated to it now, as well! All of the above will take account of less than £100 of our "spare" money - and after all we've achieved so far, we rather feel we deserve that!


Wednesday 5 October 2016

A simple supper & guilty pleasures...

I love spending time with MrEH - he's my best friend, as well as anything else, and we are, and have always been, quite happy in each others company for as much time as we have. Equally though we're not joined at the hip - we have different interests as well as those which we enjoy together, during the summer I have my aviation stuff, during the winter he plays rugby. Yes obviously it would be helpful if these two things overlapped on time, but life's not like that, is it! So we're happy to each let the other go off and "do their thing" - sometimes I go to rugby with him, occasionally he comes to an airshow thing with me. He gets on fine with my airshow gang, I get on fine with his rugby crowd. The rugby thing isn't just limited to the season when he's actually playing, either, as there are regular training sessions throughout the year, too, meaning that a couple of nights a week, generally speaking, we need to sort out meals that will work for us individually, rather than eating together.

For me, those evenings are a chance to just cook something really simple but tasty (MrEH usually defaults to an omelette or pasta when he gets home, I never quite know what time he will be in and this is quick and easy for him to rustle up) - often something which he would be less keen on - and then catch up on my "guilty pleasure" TV - Casualty, Escape to the Country, Amazing Spaces... I'm not massively a TV person, but do often have it on in the background while I'm processing photos - so when we're both in generally he will choose what we watch - which suits me fine!

On the food front all sorts of things might tick my boxes, and it will partly depend on what we have to use up. If we have posh bread left over from the weekend then it might be a big pile of fluffy scrambled eggs alongside (never on - soggy food, eurgh!) toast. Or sometimes a tin of soup - ThaT SupermarkeT's own Lentil and Bacon at 45p a can, for example. Yum. (And a guilty pleasure in itself!) Sometimes a bowl of salad with tuna, or small bits of bacon fried to JUST starting to crisp. And sometimes, like Monday night, the "odds and ends to use up" don't lend themselves to any of the above....2 chicken drumsticks rescued from the freezer. A few mushrooms, a handful of rocket, a single egg...and that is when I put into the play the meal that an acquaintance on MSE always referred to as a "Buddha Bowl". Now obviously as soon as you add meat or poultry you're immediately swerving this away from any sort of authenticity, but sometimes that doesn't matter, you know?

A quick Google search confirms that a traditional "Buddha Bowl" is essentially a dish containing a grain (or at least a starch of some kind), a protein and vegetables, usually with the addition of some kind of savoury sauce. I often end up forgetting the sauce though because the rest all smells so DAMNED good by the time I think about it. Last night was one of those occasions. I chose couscous as my base - easy as you like - a scoop in the base of my bowl, cover with the same quantity of boiling water, whack a plate on the top and leave it to steam which you deal with the rest.  I thickly sliced the mushrooms, I wanted chunks rather than slices, and popped those to cook off gently in a splash of rapeseed oil while I stripped the meat off the drumsticks. Once the mushroom was soft and turning golden I added in the chicken, and stirred it all about until it was thoroughly heated through. A handful of rocket was dumped on top and I turned my attention back to the couscous which was nicely plumped up by this time. A pinch of seaweed infused sea salt and a knob of chipotle butter were stirred through to give it a bit of punch, before the chicken, mushroom & rocket were thrown on the top, juices and all. The finally touch was a just-cooked single egg omelette cut into strips to top it off. Joy in a bowl. even more joyous as the whole lot was cooked in one pan, plus the bowl I ate it from. 4 items were dirtied in the making of this dish - no, hang on, 5, I forgot the fork I ate with! My kind of cooking!

Had I thought about a dressing in good time I might have gone for something like a teaspoon of tahini let down with lemon juice, and then added a sprinkle of sesame seeds for crunch. A vinaigrette with grain mustard added maybe. Or Rapeseed oil, lime juice and finely chopped coriander leaves. (I'm making myself hungry now!) Perhaps next time I should make the sauce first, while the kettle is boiling?!

Do you have a "go to" simple supper dish for nights like that?


Tuesday 4 October 2016

New Challenges...

I have to confess that on Saturday I woke up feeling a bit "meh" - after all the excitement over paying off the mortgage, it all felt like a bit of an anti climax after it was actually done. Mostly, friends just didn't quite "get" it - with a few exceptions who couldn't have been more delighted for us. One person I would formerly have described as a very close friend who I KNOW saw the text mentioning it (and had she for some reason not, would definitely have seen it on Twitter) chose not only to totally ignore it, but hasn't even mentioned it since - that sort of thing makes you re-evaluate, you know? We all have things going on in our lives, but I cannot imagine one SINGLE circumstance where I would let momentous news like that go without giving heartfelt congratulations to the person concerned, no matter how much there was a little bit of me sitting saying "why not me?". Hey ho, there's nowt so queer as folk, eh?

I said before that I was always just a teeny bit scared about this point - and I guess now I can say why - people just aren't meant to get to 44 and find themselves mortgage free, are they? The thing I was a little bit worried about was exactly that - that it would change the way people saw me....saw us, in fact. People don't see the hard work and effort that has gone in, the tears that were shed when I lost such a massive chunk of my income back in 2010 - and we genuinely had visions of all that work falling by the wayside (For a while I wasn't fit enough mentally to go back to even part-time work - it was at that stage that we took the decision that going forward I would only work 4 days a week, which has of course also impacted on my earning potential), the times when we've had to say "Oh no, I'm sorry, we're not about" because there just wasn't enough money to allow for us to join in with what was being proposed, or more recently the times I've had to sit mentally working out what "cheap" option I can eat off a menu so I still have enough money to stand my round of drinks because my personal spending money was so limited. Bottom line is, there is NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THESE PEOPLE - so there you go, it's out there, I'm letting it go. (But, as I've said, with certain re-evaluations of where people stand in my life and where I clearly stand in theirs). I'm not angry - it's just hurtful that I can get a warmer, more excited and congratulatory reaction from people out here in blogland than from someone I actually choose to spend time with.

So - new challenges are required. I can't imagine, now, us not having a "goal" to work to in certain areas! The first is purely financial and is to rebuild the lump sum we've just paid out to clear the mortgage as quickly as possible. We're making a few minor tweaks in what money goes where, and allowing for  a "standard of living" increase to occur - "inflation" if you like. We've always been careful to make sure that our food choices are healthy and as far as possible, ethical, but we're now aiming to be able to buy better cuts of meat when we choose to, and more things like fresh fish, and shellfish, which we love! Being able to have that stuff regularly not just as a treat will be fantastic. Our savings are now spread over three main accounts - 2 regular savers and an ISA - as well as our "routine" savings pots which allow us to budget for regular expenses. I'll post more about the money stuff in a Frugal Friday post, I think.

The second is a bit of a decluttering challenge - I've done these before, including a whole YEAR of decluttering back in 2013 - but the time feels right to do it again. I'm not doing this in any sort of structured way this time, just "taking it as it comes" and aiming to free up space. My wardrobe needs tackling, and I want to look through DVD's, and books, too. It'll be done in 15 minute bursts as that is a method that works well for me. It'll be nice to be able to get clothes in my wardrobe without having to fight with what's already in there!

Thirdly is an attack on our well stocked larder and storecupboard. We're intending to get our kitchen rebuilt later this year, and as we already know from the upheaval of the bathroom rebuild back in the spring, living in a flat does mean that this sort of work around the place causes a certain amount of upheaval which simply has less of an impact if you live in a house...and thinking about how much storage was needed to house everything from the bathroom, the thought of having to empty our kitchen into the spare room, or front room, or wherever is just terrifying! SO - the intention is to start thinking about what can be used up, with the rationale on attacking the storecupboard as well being simply this: The more free space there is in the storecupboard, the more stuff from the larder it will house when the time comes. Simple. The first stage on this is, I think, to go through the larder and work out what is in there that can simply be used, and what there is if anything that has been overlooked too long, and needs disposal. I'm hoping there's not too much of that, though, food waste makes me very cross. My bullet (ish) journal contains a rolling list of foodstuffs that I know need using, and when I do my meal plans for the week I take these into account. That helps stop us take our "eyes off the ball". While doing that we will also refill any of the containers in there that need it, and I'll establish whether there is anything in there that can be better and more tidily stored. When the kitchen is redone the inside of the Larder will be getting fully re-tiled/painted so we need to consider how best to store things from then on. I might post back here about this challenge, we'll see.


Friday 30 September 2016

Frugal Friday...

At 9.10am this morning I heard the words "I can confirm that you have just cleared your mortgage" down the phone - the lovely chap at Virgin Money sounded almost as pleased to say it as I did to hear it! Long term readers of this blog will know that we've been working towards this for quite a long while - since Spring 2008 in fact when a chance conversation took us from talking about overpaying our mortgage to actually doing it!

I tweeted about our new found Mortgage Free status this morning, and thanks to a RT from Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert fame it got quite a lot of interest and congratulations. LOVELY that total strangers will take the time to comment on something like that, so thank you to them! One question that was asked, though, was what tips we could give others, and that got me thinking...

Firstly - start by getting your house in order, financially. Work out exactly what your outgoings are, and what surplus you have left each month. Then check you actually DO have that amount left over - a spending diary can be helpful!

Don't just talk about overpaying, do it! People use all sorts of excuses for not getting on with it - "I don't know if my mortgage deal allows it..." ring the mortgage company and ask! "I don't know how to go about it" - usually it's as easy as asking the mortgage company to increase your Direct debit, and telling them to take OP's off the capital, not the term - that one is important! The big one is usually "I can't overpay enough to make a difference" - oh yes you can! As little as £10 a month starts to make an impact, and you can increase as time goes on. EVERYTHING extra you pay chips away at the interest you will pay over the term.

Fund your overpayments first off by making savings in your outgoings, not by reducing your standard of living. Take a look at your energy bills and if you're not on the best deal - switch! That saving can be added to the mortgage payment. Negotiate a deal with Sky or Virgin for your TV, broadband & phone - haggling with those guys works superbly and again, anything saved can go straight to the mortgage.

PLAN! If you plan upfront where your money is going, and ensure that everything is allocated to where it needs to go, you know exactly how much spare you have that can be used to fund overpayments. We have found that savings accounts attached to our current accounts work brilliantly - at the start of each month when we get paid automatic transfers send money across to those for the things we budget for - car expenses, holiday, household expenses and that sort of thing. Personal spending money gets transferred to our personal accounts, and the joint account then doesn't get touched for general spending, it;s just DD's etc that come out of it. At the end of the month any surplus got transferred to our "Mortgage OP account" and then headed across to the mortgage itselt at a suitable point.

Don't try to cut everything  back to the absolute bone. I've read so many blogs over the past few years with people not only cutting back their quality of life to zero, but berating others for not doing the same, and they all have one thing in common - they are not mortgage free now. Go at it steadily but with determination, heat your house, eat decent food, go out occasionally and have fun - those are all the things that will keep you motivated and stop you feeling as though it's too tough. Have fun, but budget for it.

Above all remember that even the tiniest saving can help. Maybe try taking the odd pennies off your account balance each time you log in to your online banking. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees, or if you are on Economy 7 electricity fit timeswitches to your washing machine and dishwasher (please take note the Fire Service urge caution on using appliances overnight/while you are out) so they can run overnight on the cheap rate. Change standard lightbulbs for low energy ones. Stocktake your kitchen cupboards, freezer and larder and challenge yourself to use up the contents thereof so saving money on your food bill.

As we sit here tonight within 4 walls that are entirely owned by us, I can 100% tell you that all the work on it has absolutely been worth it - the feeling this morning when I got off the phone was just amazing. Old habits die hard though - we're not going out for a posh meal, and there's no champagne being opened - instead it's our favourite celebration meal of an indian takeaway, and beer from the bottles we had in the larder already! Does it feel like a hardship? Does it hell!


(ps - I totally appreciate the irony of a Frugal Friday post on a day when I spent £20,606 before breakfast!)

Tuesday 27 September 2016

And finally...

...that's the UK airshow season at a close for us. I spent yesterday at RAF Scampton for the Reds final ISP's (In season Practises) of the year - then on Thursday the jets and Circus depart for India on the first leg of their tour. The other Blues going as part of the support crew will also be heading off but their departures are staggered over several days throughout the week between now and Saturday. The next time I will see the jets fly now will probably be in the New Year, which in itself feels odd as normally this time in the year we're looking forward to winter training and all the fun and games that go along with that.

It's been another brilliant year - no question about it. From the season opener for the team at Shuttleworth in May right through to yesterday we've had so much fun again. Once again we have people leaving - my friend Nicky has already departed the Squadron having been promoted and posted into a new role. Three of the pilots will be leaving the team when they return from tour - Synchro leader Steve, and Reds 8 & 9 - Stew and Joe. They'll be missed as always when they move on. On the bright side we have a new bunch who will be moving into the coveted "Circus" roles backseating in the jets during next season - including a very good friend's husband so SHE'S over the moon at all the photos she will get of him doing his thing during 2017!

Possibly the best way possible of finishing the season, for us, was this...

...we've waited a while for that. Extra special for having Lingy (Red 10) in there too - and for me also because it's the three of us - me, Claire & Tom - who've done so much and shared so many of the amazing experiences over the past few seasons. It just wouldn't have been quite the same if one of us had missed out. Bloody epic. Smiling may happen for a while yet... ;-)


Friday 23 September 2016

Frugal Friday...

The summer is such a difficult time of year for me to even attempt to keep up the frugal thing. In everyday life we still carry on as normal - using the washing machine and dishwasher overnight, and showering when we first get up to make use of the night-rate on the electric. Buying basic or budget brands where they are are good as branded. Driving economically. Shopping around for things. All that and more. BUT at that time of year I'm away almost every weekend photographing those Little Red Jets, and that always involves a lot of driving, and often an overnight stay, and buying food while I'm away...However it also involves a lot of fun, and some huge laughs, and so it's well worth (for me) me spending pretty much all my disposable income on it, during these few months!

As ever, there are ways and means of cutting the cost down a bit, too. Hotels generally get booked as soon as we have even an inkling of which shows we're likely to want to do - booked through one of the booking websites via Topcashback on a "cancellable" basis, and pricechecked through a site like Trivago as well. If I'm booking for myself alone I'll also often look at booking a little further out, and travelling in to the show as this can often save a fortune. If there is an option to use public transport then I always see if that will work out economically if it's practical to do so. For group meals out in the evenings after some of the shows we tend to default to Wetherspoons pubs if there is one - the food is reliable even if not gourmet standard, and in a group which generally includes a couple of real ale drinkers, a Guinness fan, a gin queen and a wine-a-holic, it's great to be able to go somewhere that we know we'll each be able to get our tipple of choice without being charged through the nose for it. We're all in the same boat mostly as far as needing to keep costs sensible, so these measures mean we can have more fun, for less dosh - a no-brainer! I set aside money through the winter months to cover the cost of my summer entertainment, and this works well for me - I can't justify running up costs on credit cards etc - I'm just not comfortable doing that as the shadow of "what happens if I can't pay it back" would always be hanging over me spoiling the fun.

The things that tend to slip by me during the busy time of year are things like meal-planning - I have a basic fund of meals that can be rustled up very quickly indeed, but that are still healthy and above all tasty. On the day of writing for example dinner will be some delicious Norfolk Pink new potatoes, boiled to tender and then gently tossed in a pan with chunks of bacon and courgette, a drizzlwe of good rapeseed oil, and served up with some fresh sweetcorn bought in Norfolk over the weekend. It'll be delicious, plates will be cleared, but it doesn't appear on ANY meal plan, anywhere! Those same potatoes (I bought a 5kg sack from our favourite campsite at the weekend) will feature a lot over the next few weeks - and at a cost of £3 for that 5kg sack that's unquestionably a frugal way of eating!

I've got a few ideas that I may try to put in place over the winter to see if next summer can be just a bit more organised on this front. The first of these is a rotating 3 or 4 week meal plan - not necessarily something rigid with "this meal on that day" but more a rough weekly "fund" of recipes - some quick to prepare, others a little more time-consuming. So as a rough guideline, a salad day, a pasta day, an egg day, a veggie day, plus options like stews or soups. The first step top this is going to be to go back over old meal plans I think and get together a full list of the sorts of meals we're happy to eat in each category - then from there work them into rough sets of 5 days. 2 days a week are complicated by MrEH having rugby training - meals need to either be very quick for him to prep when he gets in (omelettes for example), or something that I can prep and just leave in the fridge for him (salads fit this category brilliantly!). This is going to need a lot of planning and thinking about I guess - and at the moment I'm finding it slightly daunting. I'll keep you posted!


Monday 19 September 2016

That photography thing...

I realised recently that next year it will be 10 years since I started this blog. I started it originally to make myself take photos - but it's evolved somewhat since then! Still though I see photos as being at the heart of it - and indeed more and more photography is so much a part of me now it's difficult to ever imagine it not being.

For those who aren't aware, my Grandfather on my Mum's side was a photographer. (He was a musician as well, but I've come to the conclusion that I didn't inherit much of that!) As a result there are a LOT of very lovely photos of Mum taken by him from her babyhood right through to her & Dad's wedding. Sadly he died when I was three so while there are still quite a lot of photos of me growing up, they're rather more "kodak instamatic" that the earlier family shots. (Sorry Mum, but I know you'll agree!). I do often find myself wondering just how astonished he would be if he could see the camera gear I'm shooting with now - it's a world away from what he would have been used to in terms of instancy, but I suspect that may have been something that would have really appealed to him. In some ways though things really aren't so different - to get the most from my gear I still need to understand the fundamentals - metering is done via the camera these days rather than by using a separate light meter, but things like depth of field and freezing/blurring of movement are done in the same way. Perhaps in some ways the biggest change within camera themselves once you remove the film -v- sensor/memory card aspect is the way in which we change ISO these days - with film you select your film according to the conditions - a very bright sunny day - ISO100 film, for more standard use ISO200, and for lower light ISO400. Anything above that was harder to get and demanded a certain acceptance of graininess  ("noise") in the final print. Now of course it's done by the press of a button and the turn of a dial - and can be adjusted to far more precise increments. My current DSLR produces almost no discernable "noise" at ISO800, and indeed will produce perfectly acceptable results at far higher levels than that, also.
Chaffinch - Canon 7DMk2 @ ISO2500 
Now I have the ability to take a camera pretty much everywhere I go, in one form or another. of course a lot of my leisure time activities involves carrying the full kit, but even on a regular working day for example, my iPhone is always with me, and indeed sometimes I'll default to shooting with that in preference to the DSLR! The days of me needing to own a small compact camera as well are long gone. That "portability" is something that I imagine Grandpop would have heartily approved of!

My current kit is my Canon 7DMk2 - which is truly remarkable. Nicest camera I have ever owned without question. That pairs up a lot of the time with the wonderful Canon L series 100-400mm zoom, for aviation & wildlife purposes, or with the Sigma 18-250mm for more general "walkabout" stuff. The third lens in my collection is still the rather brilliant canon 50mm  f1.8 "nifty fifty" - cheap as chips but really packing a punch. I'm about to upgrade my second body - I'm currently still using my old 40D as a backup body -  I bought it back in early 2009 so it's done incredibly well. When I bought my 7DMk2 I had no hesitation in keeping the 40 and part-exing the original 7D, though - it really IS that good. God knows how many shots I've taken on it - it had a new shutter assembly fitted a few years ago so I'm guessing that will have seen it past the 150k clicks mark, though. Coincidentally it is also the second nicest I've ever owned...! I'm hopeful that its replacement - the recently released Canon 80D, will prove to be a worthy successor.

I'm feeling that I need to get back to challenging myself photographically, though, So much of what I do these days is just "camera, lens, known settings" as a starting point, I want to stretch myself a bit, do more stuff where I really have to think about what I'm doing, how I'm setting up, and the results I want to get. I've a vague notion of setting myself a series of challenges through the winter months - while there's not much going on in my more familiar aviation world. I'm still musing on what these challenges might be, currently, but in my head at the moment is:
- A day shooting ONLY in black & white (via settings within the camera)
- More days out shooting only with the 50mm lens
- A day where I restrict myself to 36 shots only, and cover over the screen on the back to replicate the "film experience"
I've got other ideas too - limiting myself to using manual mode, perhaps breaking out my old film camera and running a couple of rolls of film through that (Almost certainly the rather lovely Ilford XP-2) - that would also limit me to the 50mm lens, as my Sigma is "digital only" and won't work well with the old camera. I'd like to do some more low-light photography - something I used to absolutely love but have got out of the habit of doing in recent years. Some more documentation of interesting areas locally maybe. I'm also intending to pick the brains of a good friend - who also happens to be an award-winning RAF photog - to see what he suggests, maybe even get him to set me a challenge himself. I think what I'll end up doing is making a list of things I'd like to do photographically and then ticking them off as I go, with no particular timescale. I can sense a new page of "plans" in my Bullet Journal, can't you?!


Wednesday 14 September 2016

Playing by the rules...

...some people are just really good at "doing things properly" - you know what I mean? They are the ones whose clothes are always ironed, who have proper organised "date nights" with their partners, whose homes are tidy, meal plans magneted onto their very tidy (and clean!) fridge doors and the lid to the recycling bin actually closes... Then there's the rest of us. Now I don't know about you, but I've never been good at sticking to the rules. As a child, colouring in, my attention invariably wandered and I went outside the fact, that sums up my life really - pretty bright, and colourful, and fun, but a lot of that bright, colourful fun just manages to sneak outside the lines and look a bit untidy. *Sigh*. I've spent years feeling I should be "that person" - the one who tidies their winter clothes away neatly in April and brings them out again in October. The person who knows precisely where to find things, and never forgets a birthday (sorry to all those who either haven't had cards from me this year, or got them very, VERY late. Again) Some of those things I'd even like to achieve - a tidy house would be my dream, but unfortunately I live with MrEH and this comes lower on his priority list than it does on mine. Plus I'm actually a bit rubbish about keeping up the sort of routines that enable true tidiness, "stuff" just seems to creep in. I'm reminded here of a conversation with a good friend of mine, in connection with a planned move of accommodation that he was preparing for - he was complaining about the amount of stuff he seemed to have accumulated, to which I replied "I had you down as a bit of a neat-freak?" "Yeah I am!" he responded "...but I'm a hoarder, too!" Once I stopped laughing I realised that yes, I can identify with that!

Regardless of how organised I can be through the quieter, winter months, things tend to get away from me again during the summer. When I'm away most weekends doing brilliantly fun airshow stuff, and then spending most of my weekday evenings sorting out the photos from those weekends, boring stuff like putting clothes away and (ugh) dusting tend to get pushed into the background. I start the year writing everything into a diary...dates, birthdays, anniversaries, you name it, it will go in there. By mid July though? Less so, and by August I'm a stressy heap of disorganised forgetfulness all over again. and that just isn't good. Oh and I beat myself up for not managing to keep on top of everything, which just adds to the stressiness...yes, life in my head is a complete ball sometimes!

Is there another way (she wondered, out loud)? well yes, I think there is (obviously - is there wasn't, this would be the shortest blog post ever wouldn't it!) - it's just about finding the ways that things can work for me. I suspect the first thing is to keep things brief, not overload myself (the "you can do 15 minutes of anything" approach) and to take things a day at a time. I wrote elsewhere recently "And everything else can wait" - and do you know, it really can! SO:

Lists: I know they work for me, but letting them get overly long is counter productive.
15 minute bursts: 15 minutes of tidying somewhere at home EVERY day I'm there.
Goals: Short lists of 5 items - nothing earth shattering but just things I want to get sorted. New items to go here mean a new list, and that list will never be more than 5 items long.
Wants: Things I'd LIKE to do, stuff for me. If it never happens, it doesn't matter.
Preparation: whether it's getting stuff ready for the morning (clothes etc) or batch cooking ahead of time.
Prioritisation: Key to organisation and getting things done, I guess?

My "Bullet-esque Journal" is going to help me here. (Yes I KNOW it's a fad, and I KNOW 90% of people will stop using them once it stops being trendy, I'm hoping that as it's a variation on the diary/notebook thing I've done for ages anyway, I'll be in that other 10%, OK? Humour me here!) I'm a visual person, and having stuff written out in a very easy to follow, visual way works far better for me than disjointed dates on a page with no room to elaborate on anything much. Plus I actually like writing, as opposed to typing - notebooks are a regular feature of my life. Of course I'm not following the rules - but as someone else pointed out we're pretty sure there aren't "Bullet Journal police" out there ready to pounce at every incorrect indicator or missing page number. Mine's sectioned (Yes, as I should probably be, before anyone else jumps in there!), a sort of diary bit, a "planning" section, somewhere for finances as that is a regular thing I use a notebook for, and a bit for general notes and to-do stuff.
Weekly pages are just that - a page, with room for planned "stuff", a meal plan, stuff that needs to be booked and a SHORT to do list. It can't get longer than that as that's the space available for it - simple, yes? I'm also allocating a page per month to keep track of the bigger picture, and a "forward planning" grid of 12 blocks which will help to keep track of things planned for next year, thus removing some of the panic associated with potential double-bookings.

I need to remember that I don't have to do it all, that sometimes the path of least resistance is the easiest path to take. Sometimes, "enough" is absolutely fine. My home doesn't have to be worthy of a "Homes and Gardens" spread, it just has to be somewhere I want to go home to on a cold night. I need to remember to set aside time to organise myself, not just to try to hit everything head on. I've got 8 months until the airshow season gets up to speed again - is that enough time to develop habits that I may be able to continue even when I'm busy, I wonder? 

Friday 15 July 2016

Frugal Friday

Remember that frugal thing? Well we're still doing it. It's like I said a while back though - the more it becomes a way of life, the more it becomes difficult to think of things to say about it. It's just what we do. We have relaxed a wee bit on things as time has moved on - although we've always been inclined to "go out and do stuff" even within the constraints of paying off every penny we can against the mortgage - there has always been that quality of life balance, as we recognised from the start that while if you're in debt (by which I mean mortgage, credit cards, overdrafts or loans) then cutting back everything you can is a great way of dealing with it, there's also the risk you end up burning out and saying "sod it" too.

I dipped in to Cass's "Frugal Family" blog recently though, and her "50 ways you can save" post gave me an idea, so here I am, first time in a while for one of these on a Friday...

My "50 ways" are split into sections - centered around things we've done, and how we worked to make our money work as well as we could for those things. Even if you're not scratching around for every penny, we all work hard for our money so it's only right that we should make the most of it.

10 tips for Travel:
We live just a few miles from Stansted airport, so the temptation to whizz off for a long weekend is very much there. Our next trip is a couple of days in Dublin, and was actually a fairly last minute decision, not the best basis on which to keep costs down, but we still did our best!
- Book flights as early as you can, particularly with budget airlines
- Be flexible - our original plan was to hire a car for two days, however we were going to get no change from £65 for this. Instead we've bought travelpasses which should cover us for ALL our travel while we're there and have cost us E10 (no Euro symbol on this keyboard!) each. Bargain!
- Likewise, parking at Stansted was going to be pricey due to the short-notice - but we can park at our local station for the weekend for £5, and the train will cost us about £14 return.
- A hotel a short distance out can save you cash! If you're happy to spend 30 minutes on a bus, train or tram, you can be quids in, particularly in popular destinations
- for foreign trips, plan your spending. We've got one of Martin Lewis' ideal Credit Cards for overseas spending, so we'll be spending as much of what we need to as possible on that, and of course as ever it will be cleared off as soon as we get the bill. (It'll also earn us a little bit of cashback)
- Remember you'll need cash too - and work out how best to get it. Some credit/Debit cards allow you to withdraw free of charge, others make a charge, in which case you may be best to get your holiday money in advance. We'll also be raiding our roadkill pig to round up all the Euros that we've found in the street.
- online research is a lot cheaper than buying guidebooks for where you're going, and you often find snippets that the books miss, too.
- Similarly for general sightseeing info, older guidebooks bought from charity shops are still fine, just don't expect admission charges to places to be the same!
- If the place you're visiting has a great market then make use of it for food for an outdoor or hotel room picnic - it usually works out FAR cheaper than going out for a meal, and can taste every bit as good, or better!
- Pack light to save on baggage charges - I can do a weekend on hand luggage even when I need a full bag of camera gear by packing cleverly into the gaps around my kit, and stashing stuff into pockets. Remember also you can usually carry on an "airport shopping" bag - so a bottle of water bought airside means you can then load other stuff into that same bag.

10 tips to save at home:
- Monitor your electricity & gas use regularly - then if you see a sudden sharp spike you can work out what's caused it before it runs up a big bill
- set reminders on your phone to check you're on the best deal for utilities once a year or so
- Shop around for insurance renewals well in advance of the policies expiring - this reduces the temptation to just let them auto-renew.
- Hoovering regularly maintains carpets in good condition for longer, likewise, clean up spills as soon as they happen!
- Girls, when hair-washing, shampoo twice using just a 10p sized blob at most each time - first time concentrate on the roots, second time, the lengths. The first wash won't lather much, but that's fine, it's still cleaning! (Thanks to my lovely hairdresser friend Kate for this one!)
- putting your shampoo in a dispenser bottle not only looks nicer in your bathroom, but also means you're not so tempted to use too much
- When you think that toothpaste tube is empty, lay it on a flat surface and run your finger up from bottom to top to push up all the paste that's left in the tube
- Don't leave electrical items on standby unless you have to - things like your Sky Box will be a nuisance if you keep turning them off and on again, but TV's, radios and stereos can mostly go off at the switch to get rid of those power-sapping little red lights!
- If you're going away for more than a couple of days, think about what you can do to minimise power drain - the less electrical items left switched on, the safer your home in your absence, too!
- If you have an Economy7 meter, set timers to run things like your dishwasher, washing machine etc overnight (so long as it won't be antisocial to your neighbours to do so!), and use the thermostat on your hot water cylinder to heat that on the cheap rate, too

10 tips for shopping:
- The money mantra - Do I need it, will I use it, can I get it cheaper? - before you buy
- If you decide to buy it, can you go through a cashback site to earn a little something back?
- Look on the High Street, but if they won't price-match to online, don't hesitate to walk away, on big ticket items in particular
- For new electrical appliances, remember to check their energy usage - our new shower costs far less to run than the old one, which has covered the cost of running the new extractor and the heated towel rail
- Cashback credit cards - while they're not as lucrative as they were a couple of years ago, they ARE still out there. Just use them for purchases you'd make anyway, and pay off in full at the end of each month
- one for the photographers - there are a LOT of sites out there selling really good quality, well looked after second hand gear, the likes of MPB Photographic and CameraWorld also offer part-ex deals on the items you're replacing!
- Another one for the photographers - if you're set on buying new for a particular item, there is a cracking dedicated comparison site so you can see where the best UK deals can be had - check out
- A lot of us having things we buy regularly, from habit - but it's those costs that can mount up. A £2.30 latte every working day on your way to the office? That's a cool £500 over a year - now think what you could do with that amount of money.
- For food shopping, write a list, not only does it mean you don't forget things, it also means you get round the store faster as you don't have to keep backtracking!
- Apps/websites like MySupermarket are great if you have the option to shop at several different supermarkets - work out where is cheapest for which items and plan accordingly!

In the kitchen:
- batch cook and never use the oven for just one item!
- If your oven is electric, and your microwave has a combi/convection setting, it'll almost certainly be cheaper to use the micro than heating the main oven.
- Stock-take your fridge regularly to avoid waste
- Remember - slightly over-ripe fruit and some yogurt = a delicious (and expensive to buy) smoothie! Sometimes leftovers can be a delicious treat!
- If you're making a curry, bolognese, stew or chilli, always consider padding it out to make an additional portion or two which can be frozen as a "home made" ready meal.
- a packet of gnocchi in the larder, butter in the fridge and some fresh herbs in pots outside, can help avoid the temptation of a trip to the takeaway because you've got "nothing in for dinner!"
- plan your meals to use up anything you have left over from the previous week
- PLAN YOUR MEALS!! (Seriously, even a rough plan of meals you enjoy and some basic ingredients always to hand can make all the difference)
- keep the kitchen tidy and stay on top of washing up - if it's a nice environment, and you don't have to "clear the decks" before you can do anything, you'll be far more inclined to cook in it - that equals less impromptu takeaways!
- If you can afford it, and enjoy it, plan in a takeaway every so often - this journey is NOT about depriving yourself of everything fun. BUT, give thought to what takeaways you really love, and what you could create at home for just-as-good results - for us it's fish & chips, chip-shop ones are incomparable!

10 tips to boost your savings:
- If you see money on the floor, pick it up. There's no shame in it and it's NOT beneath you. If someone else doesn't want it, you may as well have it!
- When you log in to check your online banking, take any odd pennies from the balance of your current account(s) and transfer them to a dedicated savings account - not enough each time to notice, but it does mount up! At the end of a year use the money for something lovely.
- Each time you manage to make a saving on a utility bill, so your monthly Direct Debit amount drops, set a bank-transfer to send the saving into a savings account. As you make further savings, increase the amount of the transfer accordingly. We currently have £96 a month going to savings just from having done this for a few years!
- Work out a monthly budget and stick to it - if you should have money left over at the end of the month, but you don't, keep a spending diary to work out why!
- Budget to save if you possibly can - if you should have money spare at the end of the month then budget to move it straight to savings before you're tempted to spend it!
- Check what savings accounts your bank offers for day to day savings, but be prepared to look further afield for larger amounts. In any event it makes sense to get the best interest you can. Nationwide currently offers a regular saver account which pays 5% for its first 12 months
- If you use an ISA, keep your eye on its interest rate - rates have dropped across the board since the Personal Savings Allowance was brought in but there are still deals to be had.
- If your current account pays interest, learn when it arrives and as soon as it has, transfer it to savings.
- Pigs rule, OK! Piggy Banks are the coolest thing - so drag that small change out of your purse, wallet or pocket, and go feed a pig!
- If you use TopCashBack or Quidco, and get your cashback paid by BACS, transfer it straight to savings as soon as it hits your account so you see a benefit from your savvy shopping, ratyher than it just getting frittered away!

All of the above are tried and tested by us - I'm not a fan of putting stuff in here that we can't be pretty sure works. Yes there's merits in looking at changing bank, and getting a cash incentive to do so, but we've been with our current account provider for, well, forever, actually, in my case, and we love their customer service and that they are a building society, not a bank. They do accounts that suits us. We have a branch in town where we can see someone if we need to. So we won't be changing, no matter how much cash someone wants to give us. Yes we could get TV, Phone & Broadband cheaper than Sky, but they give us the service we want, for a price we can afford (with regular haggling!) so I won't be urging you to change there, either. A lot of this money saving lark is about finding what works for you, and not being over-influenced by other people's accounts of living on dry bread and water, wearing all your clothes rather than heating the house, and having a cold shower just once a week to save on heating the water. Between you and me, most of them probably aren't practising what they preach, anyway! ;-)


Wednesday 6 July 2016

Who cares...? (And who cares if they don't)

I posted a while ago that I was struggling with what to put here these days. With the time to put anything at all. and although I've posted a few times since, that remains unchanged - I've still been wrangling in my head with the same old "nobody's interested" thoughts - which is why THIS POST from Jen over at My Make and Mend Life really struck a chord with me yesterday. Her phrase about comparing other people's beautiful outsides with her own scrunched up insides especially - that makes SO much sense!

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that, online, what you see of a person is what they present to you, what they want you to see. That person who's so upbeat, so cheerful, so damned GOOD at everything they turn their hands to - in real life might possibly be full of gloom and not achieving half what they sound as though they are - it's just that the bits they show you make it all look shiny. Remember "Friends Reunited"? Remember how utterly implausible it was that everyone you'd been at school with had ALL landed these high-powered impressive sounding jobs, and how it made you feel ever so slightly like perhaps YOU should have done that, too? Well here's the thing - I bet you anything you like the majority either didn't have the job they were leading you to believe that they did, (case in point, the lass who I was at school with who I knew full well was working on a florist's stall at the station - suffice to say that was NOT what her FR profile claimed she was doing!). It's not all about people trying to "big themselves up" though - sometimes it's the way we read what people have written, the way we interpret it. Sometimes it's the very fact that we compare ourselves to others, and to how they're making their lives sound, without sparing a thought for whether that life would make US happy, or whether it would be a form of torture for us.

Blogging is a funny old thing, and I realised recently that the thing I've lost sight of comes back directly to the way I am about things in real life. I said to a friend recently that my default setting is to always assume that people won't want to hear from me. I'm rubbish at suggesting phone calls with pals, for this very reason - there's a bit of me that always thinks "they'll make an excuse, they won't want to chat with me, they'll have more interesting folk to speak/spend time with" - it always surprises me when someone suggests a phone call for a natter, in fact, it AMAZES me. If I don't phone you, it's not that I don't want to speak to you, it's that I assume that YOU won't want to speak with ME!  I hesitate to tell people when I consider them a good, or close friend, because I'm always wary of the fact that they'll be embarrassed because they don't feel the same - that to them I'm nothing more than an acquaintance. I'm reluctant, a lot of the time, to suggest to friends that we go places, or do things, for the same reason - I assume that while they might well want to go to those places, or do those things, they won't want to do it with me, and will then feel awkward about refusing.

I have a friend - yes, I'll go as far as to say a good friend - whose "default setting" when stressed, or busy, or unhappy about something, is to shut themselves away from the wider world. I know they will be keeping in contact with the people who are absolutely central to their everyday life - partner and parents - but beyond that, radio silence. I've spent years feeling each time this happens that it's their subtle way of telling me that they don't want to be in touch any more, but they're uncomfortable with actually telling me that, and only recently have I realised that actually, it's just their coping mechanism when things are tough, and that the best thing for me to do is to be there - to drop a text every now and again, a tag on social media with something of interest to them - just little things to let them know that I'm still here, still on their side. And as and when things settle down for them, we'll be back to normal. I don't like it, but it's part of that person, part of the way they are, and while when they're quiet I miss them like mad, ultimately, it's not a reflection on me, it's just the way things are.

Confidence can be such an issue for so many people - and we should all remember that the person we see who appears to be absolutely super-confident may actually be anything but. I started blogging in the first place not because I thought anyone would want to read, or to look at the pictures I posted, but for me, as a record of things we'd done, places we'd been, small triumphs, that sort of thing, and I'd really like to get back to doing it for that reason. I actually like looking back on my blog posts, I can get lost for ages in stuff I've written before, and so often that reminds me of things I used to enjoy but I've lost sight of. So I guess the bottom line is who cares if anyone else wants to read my ramblings. If I can look back on them in a few years and think "Oh yes!" then that's as good a reason for carrying on, as any.


Tuesday 5 July 2016

It's started!

Yep, we're flat out into the Airshow season now and once again I've been out and about round the shows watching those whizzy Little Red Jets doing their thing. No big plans this year (2014 was simply to see as many Reds displays as possible in the course of the year, last year was to see them in England, N. Ireland, Scotland & Wales all in the space of the one season) aside from just to get out and about with the gang as much as we can and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Somewhere along the line there does seem to be a plan to see the boys outside of the UK for the first time (Republic of Ireland, since you asked) and I'm toying with another "display on an Island" too - but that's a work in progress at the moment. ;-)

So far I've done Shuttleworth (sunny, glorious)...

...before our Hebrides holiday interrupted proceedings. Once back it was onto the first Torbay Airshow held in Paignton in June - the weather was mixed but it was a fantastic weekend and the organisers should be rightly proud of themselves. None of the rest of the gang could make it down that far but I had a hilarious weekend with the Reds PR team, regardless. The weekend afterwards saw me make a solo trip down to Folkestone - but a wasted trip also as the weather intervened, the boys were weatherbound at their operating base and unable to get to us. The next day - back with Claire, Tom & Ant and back to Weston-Super-Mare for a day - this one's become a firm favourite of ours over the past few years so this year we decided to try a different viewpoint...

...not the best of days weather-wise again - but that view down on the display made up for that. The following day was Cosford, which once again came with grey skies and rain showers - I'm sure one year we'll get lovely weather for this one but it wasn't to be this year. It's still good though as we get to meet up with some more far-flung members of the gang including Colin, Layna and their gorgeous lad Logan, as well as lovely Aunty Di - it's the social side of the airshows that's as much fun as the flying, in fairness!

The weekend after was the National Armed Forced Day event in Cleethorpes - so Claire, Tom and I piled into Claire's long-suffering Corsa and headed off there - and a thoroughly enjoyable event it was. Although not an "airshow" as such we still got the Reds, Chinook, BBMF and lots of parachutes, and some decent weather to see them all by, also, so we were happy enough with that!

Most recently of all last weekend I joined Anthony for a day at the Yeovilton Air Day - this was one we went to last year but due to a variety of reasons I really didn't enjoy much, but in fairness to it I was well aware it was me, rather than the event itself, hence when Ant asked I said yes to doing it again. I was glad I had too as it felt totally different this year - we arrived earlier and so were able to get a spot at the front (a big deal when, like me, you're 5'1"!) and had a lovely day with THE most fabulously dramatic skies at times...

Next up is Airtattoo at Fairford - three days of wall to wall flying action and more importantly for me, the Reds jets on the ground too so I will be concentrating on my groundshots of the engineers a lot of the time. Look out for the #CircusAtWork hashtag on Twitter (@EssexHebridean) & Instagram (@Robyn_PF) to see those. Looking forward to catching up with a few old friends and getting to know some of the new guys also. We've got the debut of the new F35B fighter there too which will be good - it'll be doing some flypasts with the Reds too which will be good to see.


Thursday 30 June 2016

British "blitz" Spirit? Not much!

So - we've had a week to get used to things, accept our lot, and start looking to the future. In fairness a lot of folk are doing just that, but there is still, and has been throughout, an extraordinary amount of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from both sides. Now I'll stress from the start, this is NOT a political post - I've never done politics on Social Media and I have no intention of starting now.  What it is though, is a comment on some of the frustrating, upsetting and just plain inaccurate things I've heard and seen over the past week.

The most alarming thing, possibly, is the people who are saying "But we were misinformed, we were fed lies" - you know what, and I hate to break it to you, but in ANY campaign of this type, both sides of the argument will twist the truth, embroider the facts, and tell you what they think you want to hear. Of course the "£350million per week to the NHS" claim on the Leave side is well documented now - but it wasn't just them who were - let's be charitable here - stretching the truth. One of the more dangerous lies I saw was on an extremely official looking leaflet from the Remain camp - so official looking in fact that at first, I thought it was the "impartial advice" that was being sent out. On the reverse of the leaflet it said (not exact wording) "If you're unsure which way to vote, then the safe option is to vote Remain as another vote can be held in the future". I do find myself wondering how many people took that "advice" to heart in spite of the fact that it is categorically false? The bottom line is that all the information was out there and easily accessible. (For the purposes of this I'm assuming that you are computer-literate and have access to the internet). I found enough information out there from various sources to make an informed decision - so what was your excuse for not doing so? If you expect all the information on something this important to be spoon-fed to you then I think the bigger question is actually whether you're responsible enough to be given a vote in the first place!

Next up - "Oh but it's alright - this referendum isn't legally binding" - well if you'd bothered to do any sort of research at all, or even taken the trouble to ascertain what you were being asked to vote in, you'd know that referenda are essentially an advisory instrument - designed to gauge the feelings of the country's voters on a particular issue. Had you done that research, you might also have understood why that lie I've mentioned from the Remain campaign above is so critical - in a referendum, if you are unsure which way to vote, you'd be very well advised to NOT VOTE AT ALL. Too many people failed to understand that a) this was a seriously important question and b) yes - regardless of the result it is possible that a further vote will be held on the subject in the future - but that "future" is likely to be a VERY long way away - decades not years. For a lot of us voting this time round, the "further vote in the future" is simply not likely to be in OUR future.

That brings us on nicely to those who didn't vote at all. If you couldn't make up your mind, and so were unable to put an informed X in a box, and you chose not to vote as a result - well done you. Please don't be browbeaten by those telling you that you should be ashamed, or that wonderful old chestnut "people died to so you have the right to vote" - the right to vote has a flipside, and that is the right to make an informed decision on NOT voting, also. That is democracy - that you have a choice. However, if you were one of those who couldn't be bothered to unwedge your backside from the sofa to go to the polling office - then stop your complaining right now - you have no right of reply on this issue. "I only remembered I needed to vote after the polling stations had closed" No - you're lying, Just shut up and stop digging. Likewise those who have said "I voted X but didn't realise it was so important and now wish I'd voted the other way" - really? The country has been talking about this question for YEARS, but the importance bypassed you? Again, we're back to the question of whether you are responsible enough to be given a vote, and possibly, in this case, whether you should ever be allowed to breed, also. (This also applies to those who voted based on factors other than whether they wanted the UK to stay in, or leave, the EU. A referendum is not a time for a protest vote, or a vote against a government, or a vote for the sake of it because you "had to vote for something" - again, had you researched, you would have understood that.)

A few other classics - "The turnout was too low for it to count" - the turnout was 72.2%. For reference, that was the highest turnout at the polling stations for a UK-wide vote since 1992. Do you want all the General Elections since then re-run as well? Shall we start with 1997? No, thought not. As a point of interest, less than 36% of voters in the UK turned out last time there were European Parliamentary Elections - and from 1979 - 2014 the highest turnout EVER was 38.52%, if that doesn't underline the apathy that the UK felt towards the EU, I don't know what does. If we accept that you do have a valid point on the question of turnout, the turnout in the 1975 EC (Common Market) referendum was even lower than this time round...SURE you still want to use that argument?
"There should be a 2nd referendum held" - why? The country was given the opportunity to a) Do our research b) make an informed decision and c) Get to a polling station and vote - on what basis should the vote be re-held? Because you couldn't be bothered? You do realise that this wasn't a playground game of "Rock/Paper/Scissors" - that when you lose, you can badger your mate to go "best of three"?
"All Leave voters are racists who only voted because they want to stop immigration" Nope. And if you're trying to soften it by saying "the majority of..." then nope again. Just 33% of Leave voters polled stated that "regaining control over immigration" was their primary reason. And you'll note - "control over" rather than "preventing".
"Leave voters didn't think it through" - well no again according to the polls - once you take out those who have "always known how they were going to vote" (39% of Remain voters and 36% of Leave voters - in other words those for whom no argument was going to sway their view) - the numbers suggest that actually, it was the remain voters who were more inclined to have made their minds up closer to the time - with 43% making their decision within a month of the vote. (41% for Leave voters)

I've heard so many people saying "I'm really angry" - and I can understand that anger, but NOT that it is being turned internally, turned against the country and its people. Fear too - frankly anyone who's jumping up and down with glee now and saying everything is going to be wonderful should be locked in a room with Nigel Farage and several very hungry Pit Bulls IMO. It's right to be wary of what's ahead - in fact it's helpful, a degree of fear helps to make sure people inform their choices  - maybe the vote would have been different if there had been less complacency on the Remain side - let's face it, the majority of us assumed it would be a vote to stay. (That's fact, not opinion - 7 in 10 voters expected a Remain win). Fear is a rational response - panic, however, isn't, and certainly isn't helpful in a situation like this. Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert said on this subject "The most important thing we can do is keep calm, carry on and act Normal. If we can manage to do that collectively, the impact of this sentiment change will be minimal" and also quite rightly that it's perfectly possible to talk ourselves into a recession - really not what anyone wants, surely? (He's also put together an interesting "Brexit Q & A" which can be found HERE - well worth a read).

So, from now on, can we all start trying tio look forwards, not back. There's no place for hate, whether pointed at those of other nationalities, or at those who chose to place their X in a different box to that which we chose. Anger is great, it can be a very positive, driving emotion, but if it's directed at those who "misinformed" you, perhaps it's time to stop and think where the responsibility for that REALLY lies - in the information that "they" provided, or in your lack of challenge to that information?



NOTE:  - I've thought hard about whether to disable comments on this one. At the moment I'm leaving them open, but some rules: Your comment does not descend into political ranting. Be polite and  above all constructive. No abusive language. Bear in mind that I've not said which way I've voted, and nor will I. You may disclose as you choose but please respect my decision and avoid speculating on what you "think" I chose - you stand a 50% chance of being wrong, in any event. ;-)  I'll be deleting comments that don't respect the above. 

Tuesday 10 May 2016

We did it...

...finally, 13 years after moving into our flat, we took the plunge and got the bathroom sorted out. when I say "sorted out" - the builder who did the work asked on arrival exactly what we wanted done and the answer was "everything" - so everything it was - quite literally floor to ceiling and even most of the walls.

The issue we had with the bathroom from the start was that while it wasn't to our taste (far from it, in fact!) it was liveable-with. Once we'd got the previous occupants' years of neglect off the toilet, basin and bath that was. Even when the floor developed a hole, we learned to step over it and walk round it rather than be brave enough to actually commit to doing something about it. Over the years we've gradually put together ideas, thoughts and plans. That bathroom has been on our "to do" list for a VERY long while, and finally after a chat with a lovely friend a few months back (his take on it was "for goodness sake just DO IT - you'll talk about it forever!"), we took a deep breath and put the wheels in motion, getting the lovely Dave-The-Builder (he SO should have been called Bob!) to come and look, and quote, and then go ahead with the job.

The biggest issues with the old room (discounting the blue suite, and the hole in the floor already mentioned), were the size - the room is pretty much tiny, although still astonishingly bigger than the bathroom in our old place which just ludicrously small - and the lack of storage. There was a vanity unit under the sink but it was essentially one big cupboard, so it made finding anything in there extremely difficult and when you pulled one thing out, there was a tendency for domino-effect to kick in as lots of other things that you didn't want, followed the first. We stuck a set of wooden IKEA drawers on the window sill for odds and ends but that blocked a lot of light and didn't help much on the storage front, either. It also had a tendency to get terribly damp - the 1980's polystyrene ceiling tiles didn't help with that and were truly impossible to keep clean. Everything gradually turned black with mildew and as fast as you cleaned it off, more took hold. The double-glazed window had all its units blown - effectively meaning that it was no longer double-glazed, and the cistern on the loo was getting slower and slower to fill.

We decided from the start that if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right - no cutting corners to save costs, that while it might not be cheap it WOULD end up as we wanted it, and as it would best work for us. We discovered early on that there were ways of making savings too - for example the taps - we looked endlessly for the "right" thing, and finally found a set in one of the DIY warehouses for just under £200 for the pair - basin mixer and bath mixer - but looking online found an identical set from elsewhere for half the cost. The shower - again seen in real-life, but bought online saved us nearly £100. we could easily have spent three times as much on the plain white tiles for the majority of the walls, than we did - but you know, the 55p-a-tile ones looked every bit as nice, and the very first floor tiles that we actually liked enough to put on our floor turned out to cost us a grand total of £25.76 for the entire floor! Those savings in turn meant that when we DID need to spend a bit extra, we did it without flinching. These...

...for example - our gorgeous mosaic tiles. £135's worth  of gorgeous mosaic tiles, to be exact - BUT they were exactly what we wanted, and they look stunning! (they look even better now they're grouted in, too!) Size limitations meant that we were struggling to fit in anything more than a 2-door vanity originally, but I knew for sure that a while ago I'd seen one that had the layout we wanted AND fitted the gap, so I dug around on the internet until I turned it up.

Dave-The-Builder too had some great ideas to offer - it was his suggestion to paint the top half of the biggest wall in a very soft pale grey, for example, and also to continue the splashback of mosaic right across behind the loo, not just behind the sink. He also built the superb recess above the bath, meaning that shampoo bottles etc no longer need to sit on the edge of the bath getting in everyone's way and occasionally falling over and landing painfully on your toes...

This is the first serious job we've had done on the flat - and we've learned a lot from it - that a really good craftsman is worth his weight in gold, for example, Dave came to us as a recommendation and he's been brilliant. We ended up with the job going ahead quicker than we'd expected though - and that has caused some issues - basically I spent every spare second in the first week running round sourcing things, googling stuff and trying to get everything organised so it would be ready when needed. That when you live in a flat, having a garage which can be used for storage is a godsend - lord knows what we'd have done without that. That Topps Tiles online ordering system with "collection from store" means you have to wait longer for your tiles than had you opted for their free delivery to home. (Yes, that one caused a delay). That actually checking that that the Charcoal Grey rubbish bin you've ordered from the store IS Charcoal Grey, and not realising three hours after you get it home that, in fact, it's purple, saves a lot of time later. (No, it wasn't in a box, I was just so frazzled that I didn't even think about it. Credit to Dunelm Mill for superb customer service to sort that one out though!). Above all we've learned that attention to detail, and trusting your instincts, go a long way - the thing we're most pleased about is that we planned the room out from scratch ourselves, and it's all come together looking exactly as we hoped it would.


Thursday 5 May 2016

Social Mediocracy...

I've posted before on the subject of Social Media, and it's good and bad sides. I'm still in two minds - I love the fact that it's so easy to share photos with an ever-wider audience on the likes of Twitter & Flickr, for example. That Facebook lets me stay in contact with people who otherwise, I'd have no likelihood of staying in touch with, and whilst I may not have much to do with them, I wouldn't want to totally lose touch. Facebook is also great for keeping in touch with people who fall into certain "compartments" in my life - airshow people in the winter, Great British Beer Festival friends who live at the other end of the country from one August to the next. Instagram is ace for being able to just see little snippets of people's lives - some I know personally, others I don't, but I choose to keep my "follows" on there to a small group as mostly this means that I can keep up with my feed and don't miss too much. In part as a result of that I've been surprised how fast my number of followers has built up to be honest - but it's truly lovely that so many people like what I post on there.

One thing I really don't like about social media generally is the fact that it does seem to give a certain "type of person" an outlet to be snipey, bitchy or just plain cruel. The older I get, the more time moves on, the more I find online one-upmanship or spiteful behaviour to be completely unacceptable. If you're someone who regularly gets a kick out of making nasty little jibes at people, or patronising them, then get over yourself please - you are absolutely NO better than anyone else and the only person you will make look small, ultimately, will be yourself.  As someone who has been using assorted online forums for a good many years, it's a sad fact that there have always been "keyboard warriors" - the sort of folk who like nothing better than sitting hunched over their computer firing nasty little jibes at those who they think are a) the most likely to be affected and b) are least likely to retaliate. Just like any other playground bully out there, they won't generally attack anyone who they think is likely to challenge their behaviour, and if in an environment where others are likely to see their comments, they generally take care to ensure that, if challenged by someone else, they can claim not to have meant what is being suggested, that they are being taken out of context...

Generally speaking whether online or in real life I do have an issue with people being two-faced. I'm always doubtful about trusting, for example, someone who is sweet as pie to someone's face, yet will happily slag them off to me, behind their back. Not nice, and it doesn't take much thinking to realise that person would almost certainly be doing the same in reverse! Happy to maintain an aquaintance of sorts with someone like that, but they are definitely never going to be someone who I will trust with my innermost secrets! Again, it sort of feels as though Social Media does facilitate this sort of behaviour too. A friend on FB has regularly had problem with someone on their friends list who is clearly acting as a go-between - passing information about him back to somebody who has been responsible for some fairly nasty online bullying of my friend in the past - and this too is having a huge impact on him as he simply doesn't know who to trust anymore. Considering that my friend has a history (which he freely and publicly acknowledges) of severe depression - that's a pretty low way to behave, and watching him crumble when yet another incident of this behaviour rears it's head is so sad. He's got the person who was the original problem blocked on every possible level, as has his partner, yet still the information leaks back, and he's simply run out of ideas to stop it.

I regularly see cute little pictures being posted on Twitter, or lines in people's online biographies spouting legends about "being nice" - yet oddly enough so often, the sort of people who use that sort of thing are just the people who, when you watch their behaviour for a while, are about as far from "nice" as can be imagined! I often wonder if they replicate their online behaviour in real life - perhaps they are the people who will happily drive right down a closed motorway lane until they are practically on top of the incident it is closed for before confidently barging into a gap in the traffic that never really existed. Can they be found on trains sitting in someone else's reserved seat? Or maybe picking up every apple in the box in Tesco before selecting one perfect enough for them - carelessly throwing those they discard back into the heap to bruise them for everyone else? Are they those with a huge sense of entitlement and superiority complex who stalk around sneering at those they see as unworthy of or too lowly for their attention, and being rude to shop assistants just for fun? the one thing I am sure that all these people have in common is that actually, I suspect their lives aren't anywhere close to as happy as they try to pretend - nobody who is genuinely comfortable in their own skin, happy with their life and secure in their friendships has a need to act like this, do they, so perhaps these unpleasant characters we've all had the misfortune to run across, we should actually be feeling sorry for? I'll let you make your own mind up on that one, but you'll find me making every effort to avoid them, as I have been, thank you!