Thursday 30 April 2020

Day 38...

A brisk walk to a war memorial this morning - Potter Street is one of the villages that pre-dates our new town and has now merged into it, we have driven past the memorial countless times but never actually visited before, so it was lovely to finally go and see it. Beautifully kept and cared for - and look carefully and you will see the nearby church in the background of this photo too.

The walk had to be brisk as we only had an hour before a delivery was due - brilliant service from 2 breweries we ordered beer from on Tuesday evening - Rudgate delivered first thing this morning, and Brass Castle followed shortly after 11am. Very impressed with both - and friends who ordered at the same time as us from Rudgate experienced the same timescales also, we’ll order from them again. The prices were excellent from both too - we don’t expect bargain basement when ordering direct, but both of these offer a fair price for a good product. (Brass Castle is also Vegan friendly and gluten free - neither things that we require but still fairly unusual in the world of beer so worth mentioning.

I shouldn’t let today pass without saying happy birthday to Captain - or in fact now honorary Colonel - Tom Moore - the gentlemen who set out to raise £1000 for the NHS charities together fund and accidentally raised over £30 million pounds. Today was his 100th birthday and it was a delight to see this inspirational chap given a flypast by the Battle Of Britain a memorial Flight first thing this morning - a great start to anyone’s day, in fairness!


Wednesday 29 April 2020

Day 37...

It's one of my very best friends birthdays today - so when we walked this morning I decided to photograph the very prettiest things I saw to message to her - this allium stood out, glittering with raindrops as it was! Happy birthday lovely Fay!

I'm getting ready to do some experimentation with my sourdough starter. He (Sidney, in case you were wondering) had his fourth discard/feed cycle today, and as I can't quite bear to throw any of the discards away, I decided that I might as well have a go with baking some of it and see what happens - he might be too young, but then again he might not, we'll see. So currently I have the first stage for bread in the airing cupboard, with another tub of discard next to it which might turn into sourdough pancakes or pikelets for breakfast tomorrow. In the fridge are two more tubs of the stuff - what exactly I'm going to do with those I have NO idea! I'm now gently stepping down the overall size of the starter - partly to save on flour, and partly to save on space! I will be truly delighted if I can get the hang of producing sourdough bread - it truly is one of my absolute favourite foods, the only difficulty will be stopping myself from eating it ALL the time!

We're now on our "weekend" thanks to MrEH's 3 day week. A few plans made - as well as assorted baking, we want to get a couple of longer walks in, I want to run at least once more I think, we have a virtual beer festival meeting on Saturday morning, and a Zoom get together with friends again in the afternoon. We've ordered some more beer from a couple of different breweries - it feels like we are spending a fair amount on it of late but of course in "real life" that would be spent in various pubs or at the rugby cub - and would just be lumped in as general spending money - it just looks like more when you see it going out all in one go. One delivery should be arriving tomorrow, the other will hopefully follow in the next few days.


Tuesday 28 April 2020

Day 36...

A day of rain, and also I think the first day of the lockdown that I have taken no photos at all. I do still have plenty to work on though - this shot of a bluebell in the garden was taken using my macro lens at the weekend - I would have got rather damper had I been lying on the grass to take it today, that's for sure!

I've realised in the past couple of days what a difference the good weather was making to the way I was coping with the current situation - I use movement and exercise to help deal with anxiety and depression generally, I think I said previously on here that one of my major fears when the lockdown started being mentioned was not being able to go out and about as I needed - in fact our daily walk or a run has mostly been enough to keep things on a fairly even keel until now. I'm not someone who by any means enjoys doing either in the pouring rain though, so the thought of several very wet days on the trot was playing on my mind somewhat. I decided that being proactive was the best approach - hence heading out for an additional bit of exercise yesterday afternoon, knowing I might not be able to do much today it felt important to get one "in the bank" as it were. Sure enough on getting up this morning it was truly unpleasant outside, so rather than our usual walk, I got fitness kit on and did three back-to-back interval sessions at home this morning. One cardio - to get the blood pumping, then 2 strength sessions - one purely bodyweight and the second using a resistance band. I didn't enjoy any of them much while I was doing them, but certainly felt better for it afterwards!

A fair number of people have now voiced the thought to me that perhaps one good thing which could come from this will be more people incorporating some form of exercise into their regular routines, having been encouraged to take it for granted during this time. Certainly I get the impression that a fair number of the people currently seen out walking, running or cycling haven't been doing it regularly for all that long - it's really refreshing to see and hopefully they are really feeling the physical and mental benefits to a level where it will encourage them to continue. I also have several friends currently working their way through the Couch to 5K programme - including one who very much as I did for years has always insisted that she'd be entirely unable to run - it's been a joy watching her finding out that she can, and how great for mental health it is too.

More poor weather forecast for tomorrow - let's see how we fare.


Monday 27 April 2020

Day 35...

And there was week 5 gone. It still feels very strange to think that this has all been going on for quite so long really - and no certainty on an end date yet, either. On the other hand - locally we had a day with no new C19 deaths at our local hospital and things have definitely started to show an improvement generally on that front too, signs that the lockdown is doing what it should, hopefully. Around here most people are being pretty good about it - yes there are the odd little gatherings of people outside on sunny days, and we have neighbours who have continued to have family members turning up for social get-togethers almost daily throughout - it is annoying but there is little we can do about it really. Meanwhile I drop off Mum & Dad's shopping each week and we grab a short conversation with me at the safe distance of the end of their garden path.

Social media is still interesting with a real mix of viewpoints on the whole thing. Rather like in everyday life - the majority understand the reasons, a fair few have done enough research to also understand the aims, and a probably really quite small, but loud enough to sound otherwise minority are armchair experts supreme and are insistent that the whole situation is dreadful, it's not fair, against their rights and the government don't know what they are doing. On the latter point, probably a degree of truth, and this is of course why the focus on managing the pandemic is being directed by a team of experts behind the scenes - or in the case of a few of them, probably rather less behind the scenes than they might ideally like! The irony is that a lot of the government bashing posts are of course as ever politically motivated, yet the experts advising would be the same regardless of which party was in power - a point which many seem to be choosing to ignore (or simply don't realise!). while the majority of politicians are very sensibly putting the real cut and thrust of party politics to one side at the moment, there are many on social media who seem unable to do the same and continue to bang the same vitriolic old drum day in, day out - much nastiness ensues with the different sides resorting to name calling. All very tedious, and of course entirely unhelpful. I've never done personal politics on this blog, and that will remain unchanged, personal should mean just that in my view.

I completed my first running challenge of the lockdown this afternoon too - the Navy Wings charity are doing a "set" of 5 different 5k challenges - I signed up for the Sea Vixen 5k in support of one of my absolute favourite classic jet aircraft, and a slow 3.5 miles this afternoon leaves me in a position to claim my medal for that.


Sunday 26 April 2020

Day 34...

We walked a bit more of the local sculpture trail this afternoon - the building above is not part of it but it’s an odd favourite of mine - sited in the heart of the town centre, I love the contrast between  the circular pillars supporting it, the round windows in oval recesses, and the very stark angular lines everywhere else - including in the buildings surrounding it as you can see. It’s quirky, and in some ways quite typical of a lot of the architecture in the town. MrEH hates it, I like (some of) it.

The sculpture trail is proving fun - today’s section was a little frustrating in that there were a number that we couldn’t access as they are inside buildings which are currently closed. The civic centre, the shopping centre and the theatre all have pieces inside them, so those will need to go onto a list to go back and see at some time in the future. We knew this would be a problem at the moment though and at least some of the civic centre ones were visible through the windows!

Tomorrow MrEH starts another working week - I of course don’t, but I do plan to spend a fair bit of time this week continuing with my task of sorting out some old photos which I’ve not found time for previously. It always takes longer than you might expect - first task is to go back on the 2018 Torbay BBMF photos I found last week and finish hose, which will be no hardship as I was thoroughly enjoying those, even if it was a slight mystery how I had been distracted from them in the first place!


Saturday 25 April 2020

Day 33...

Saturdays are feeling probably about the oddest day of the week at the moment. Usually we’d have some shopping to do in the morning, then MrEH would get his stuff together and whizz off to the rugby club for the afternoon. I’d sometimes have things to do here, and sometimes go and watch the match, but generally speaking we’d both end up in the bar for drinks in the evening with a few of his team mates as well. If not a rugby weekend, then we might be off with pals at a beer festival somewhere, or attending a planning meeting for the Great British Beer Festival - quite often in a pub, and then featuring a few more pubs in the evening once business has been concluded!  Now we have usually done any shopping that needs doing at quieter times previously in the week. Obviously there is no rugby matches, and no rugby club or pubs open, and indeed, for his year, no GBBF to be planned for either. Beers, and friends, however do remain unchanged as a feature.

Zoom is one platform which until a few weeks ago a fairly large number of us had never even heard of, never mind used. Now it, along with various other live video chat applications is forming a huge part of many people’s social lives. Following on from the get-together we had with our closest  CAMRA friends last weekend to celebrate Marc’s birthday, the suggestion was made that we planned it as a weekly thing while the lockdown continued, and the second of these gatherings was held today. It does feel quite strange chatting with people like this, but after a while you get used to it -  people come and go as needed (one of our number absented himself for a short while to go and feed his sheep, and I vanished for 15 minutes or so to make scones... ) and the conversation flows pretty naturally, as does the banter!

Baking seems to be something else going through a bit of an resurgence currently too - although flour is still incredibly tricky to get hold of. We still have a small amount of self raising, and a spare bag of plain in the cupboard, as well as the bread flour we acquired in the week, so we’ll be OK for a bit yet. This week however I was unable to get eggs, so I needed an egg free recipe to bake, and after several friends talking about making scones, they seemed to hit the spot nicely!


Friday 24 April 2020

Day 32...

Sourdough starter started today - I’ve been wanting to do this for a long while, then never getting around to it for various reasons, so this feels like a good time to finally get around to it. The method in the River Cottage Bread handbook is a simple one using flour and water only so perfect for what we wanted. We will see over the next few days if it behaves as it should. Also found a recipe in there for oatcakes - and learning to make those properly is another thing on my list, so that will be being explored tomorrow.

Talking of exploring, more has been done locally, including a small patch of woodland today which in spite of it backing on to the Rugby Club we had never been in before. At some stage I may have to go back to climb this tree as someone has kindly fitted a ladder...

I have found a local map and we are planning to mark off the roads in the town we have now walked, as far as we can remember them, using highlighters. Some more will be covered by the sculpture trails as we continue with those, and this could well spark an “Every Single Street” type project, at least in our closest areas. We are probably better than most at walking around the town rather than always defaulting to driving, but we’re still finding ourselves surprised by the amount of times we’re finding places we’ve not been previously in the 17 years we’ve lived here.


Frugal Lockdown Friday part 5...

As we near payday in our first full month of lockdown, it’s a good time to do some planning  and evaluation as to how you may need to change things in your finances for the next month. You currently still just have sufficient time to negotiate changed amounts in direct debits, for example, depending when in the month they are due to go.

If you have your income unchanged, but are saving on commuting costs, and on going out and about as you might usually, your changes can be all positive. Yes you may well have spent a little more on food (and possibly alcohol!) than usual in the month, but take account of that, and then whatever surplus you have once all your regular bills are paid in the month can be moved to savings.

A further note on savings too - those who had the Tesco Internet saver accounts recommended by Martin Lewis, but have since moved money out of them because the interest rates have fallen, it may be worth checking to see if you have had an interest payment land, depending on how long your account has been empty for. I got a nice little surprise when I logged into ours the other day - knowing that we had money in there until the end of last year and that interest was due to be paid in March. That money has now been safely rehomed into somewhere currently earning a little more interest!  I’ll cover a bit more on savings accounts next week, so if that interests you,  check back at the same time next week.

If your income has dropped, then you may need to think about stopping some payments you might usually make. Remember the priority list - you MUST pay your mortgage, or rent - or apply for a payment holiday. You MUST pay your council tax, and you should make sure that your payments for heat, light and water continue. You must also ensure that you have sufficient money for food, remembering that your “at home” food costs may have increased slightly. If your shortfall to cover all other expenses is small, take a look at routine payments that you may be able to suspend - gym memberships for example, or payments to membership organisations where you cannot currently access the benefits that you directly pay that membership for (some I believe have said that they will offer either a 3 month extension to memberships, or a suspension in monthly payments for the time being) - organisations where you pay simply to be a member, or to support the aims of that organisation and are perhaps given certain benefits as an “aside” are a slightly different case - so for example the RSPB - we are members by way of a monthly DD payment, and get free access to reserves off the back of this, but our membership is to support the organisation NOT to get the free access - if you can possibly manage to continue with payments like that then I’d urge you to do so although never at the expense of being able to meet your priority bills.

If you have debt payments going out that you are unable to meet then contact the companies concerned and let them know that you need to drop to token payments (usually £1 per month) for the time being - ask that they freeze interest and that they don’t put a marker on your credit file currently. Continuing to pay something should ensure that you don’t get hit with defaults, at least. Many financial providers are currently being surprisingly understanding about the issues people face in the current situation - as always the key is to talk to them though, if you cannot get through on the telephone, send an email. If speaking with someone on the telephone and agreeing an interest freeze or other temporary amendments, take the name of the person you spoke to and note the date, time and duration of the telephone call for your own records.

Above all, don’t panic - keeping a calm head and planning things through will save the day here. Hopefully the government Job Retention Scheme will ensure that not too many are losing more income than they absolutely must - and indeed for many the decrease in costs like commuting and buying lunches, coffees etc during a regular working day will cover that shortfall to a large degree anyway. Ironically although I am now furloughed those savings don’t apply to me as we car-share for our commute anyway, and I take lunch with me and don’t buy coffees! Think about all the other areas where you may be able to make easy win savings - I posted a couple of weeks ago on these.  If you reach the end of the month and find you have a surplus from your March pay, using this  to offset any difficulties you will experience in May as a result of reduced April pay will also be a good idea - although if the reduction in pay is going to continue you must remember that you will not have that benefit next month!


Thursday 23 April 2020

Day 31...

Happy St George’s day.

Some other things that have made me happy today:
- our now usual walk this morning, doing the next part of the sculpture trail and seeing the adorable Donkey, above.
- finally being able to get some bread flour - and a bag for my Dad too (thanks Mayfield Farm!)
- fresh bread - Mayfield again - our favourite 6 Seed Bloomer loaf.
- finally getting the nerve to cut my hair - not perfect, but definitely good enough!
- Listening to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells II and remembering how wonderful it sounded in the Royal Albert Hall - I have a feeling my Mum won tickets for me and a friend to go and see it?
- another gorgeous day of sunshine ☀️
- spending time this afternoon playing about with some flowers outside, and my macro lens.
- MrEH spotting that my beautiful Aquilegia plant was flowering
- online chats with assorted friends
- a jigsaw where every piece has at least one straight edge - utter silliness and REALLY tests the brain out!
- a whole load of unprocessed Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight photographs from Torbay airshow back in 2018 to work through.

All individually small things, but each leading to a little joy - something which is very much needed at the moment.


Wednesday 22 April 2020

Day 30...

We have a new fun project! The town we live in is known for the large number of sculptures scattered around the place - we have some quote notable works in the town including some by the likes of Hepworth, Rodin and Moore - there are over 80 in total and there are a serious of trails around the town which you can follow to see them all. (Or rather at the moment not *quite* all as some are inside various buildings which are of course currently closed to the public). In spite of having lived here for nearly 17 years we have still never managed to see them all, so we decided that the walking we are doing currently might be a great chance to walk the trails and tick off all those sculptures that are freely available to see. We made a start this morning (one is literally across the road which goes to prove how ridiculous it is that we've not done this before!) and ticked off the first 6 including one we'd never seen before at all, and another (above) that we weren't aware was part of the trails.

Today was "Earth Day" - and having the time, I decided I wanted to do something to mark it - so I grabbed our litter-picker, gloves and a black sack and broke the rules by heading out a second time this morning to the woods to see how much rubbish I could find, and clear up. The answer turned out to be a quite alarming amount - I had no problems at all filling the bag in just over half an hour - plastic bottles, sweet and chocolate wrappers, drinks cans and more. The number of places where people clearly routinely go and sit for a picnic of sorts and then leave, discarding all their rubbish behind them were quite alarming - and I have little doubt that if I go through there again in a few weeks time it will be back to the same state. Still - for the moment it's far, far tidier, and nicer for people to walk through, so that's something.


Tuesday 21 April 2020

Day 29...

OK - we need to talk about the weather. Has anyone else been noticing that it's been behaving rather oddly? While we often seem to get a run of fairly decent weather at this stage in the year, down here (South East / East Anglia) it's been pretty much wall to wall sunshine since the lockdown started.Good in some ways - bad in others. There has been rain forecast a few times but it hasn't realy materialised into much, and even stranger, when we have had a few cloudier days forecast, they've never appeared, either just being sunny again in defiance of the forecast, or with the forecast changing at the last minute... Now at this stage I must apologise to those readers who are now thinking "well it's not been like that here!" - a person in a small white house on a small island a good way north and west of here springs to mind... I know, sorry - you did have ONE day when there was barely any wind though, no? Anyway - whatever is going on with the weather currently (and someone said on the radio - "it's kind of like it's on pause or something!" it can carry on please - it's thoroughly pleasant to walk or run in it when it's like this!

I'm making an effort to make productive use of my additional time now I'm furloughed. It does feel a bit guilt-inducing though, being paid, albeit less than my usual salary, but not only not expected to do any work, actually not permitted to! It’s obviously not like I can go out as I usually might on a Friday - so finding ways of filling my time here is going to be the order of the day. This morning was some gardening - grass cutting mainly with the aid of a strimmer loaned to us by next door! I also popped to do some shopping this afternoon which we would otherwise have done after we’d both finished work. I’m really not sure how I feel about things at the moment to be honest - everything feels so unsettling in general and this is just one more strange thing to adjust to.


Monday 20 April 2020

Day 28...

28 days. 4 weeks since the lockdown started. We commented yesterday that it doesn't actually feel that long in some ways - in terms of adjusting to being at home all the time, not travelling, not using the cars etc, we've got used to that surprisingly fast. Not seeing other people is tougher to get used to, and some things - like moving away from people in the streets, and having to queue to get into shops, is just still downright surreal even now.

I have a new thing to get used to now as well as I am now furloughed by my company until further notice - we knew our work would drop off dramatically as a result of this - people can't view properties, and so aren't putting offers on them, and as a result there was always going to be a lack of new instructions for the partners to work on. I knew when this all started that there was likely to come a point where they were going to  need to use the Job Retention Scheme for me, so it came as no surprise. It feels very strange at the moment - employed but not expected to - indeed not allowed to - do any work is an odd situation. In normal circumstances it would be glorious - but perhaps not quite so much currently!

Our plan is to pretty much stick to our same routine as we have found works over the past few weeks - so Monday > Wednesday MrEH is working anyway, and we usually get up and out for around 8am so we're not getting up too much later than in "real life" - and starting the day with a walk or run is suiting us well to wake up both body and minds. We're also enjoying exploring bits of the local area that we've not really investigated much before.  Then he will work, and I will potter. I'm good at that - thankfully! Thursdays we are planning to allow a similar routine to form but without him needing to work. There may be jigsaws involved from Thursdays. There may also be beers involved from Thursday evenings as that is now officially weekend for both of us. Friday mornings I want to stick with my "usual" Friday routine of a longer run as far as possible if the weather permits, and the proper weekend days we're basically treating like a normal laid-back weekend when we don't have anywhere else to go!

So - more "new" and more adjustments in this very odd time. Lots for us all to get used to.


Sunday 19 April 2020

Day 27...

...or, a jigsaw and a long walk!

After starting the day slowly - lots of tea, a toasted bagel, more tea, and some more pieces placed in our current jigsaw, MrEH dropped a couple of slices of yesterday’s Chocolate Banana cake over to my parents, I cooked lunch, and after we’d eaten, we laced up walking boots, gathered water and our local OS Map and headed out for the walk we’ve been thinking about since earlier in the week. 

Out along the old road to Potter Street, then through to the edge of Harlow Common - the green space that effectively separates out the new town and the villages merged into it from the more outlying villages. The pond above I’ve seen so many times driving past but never been for a closer look - put that right today! On across the a common and a right turn along the top edge  to Foster Street - this stretch was walked on the road but there was so little traffic it was no problem. Then back onto footpaths leading to this bridge over the M11...

We just went up for a look - incredible to see it so empty! Down the steps again and onwards - the footpath branches off diagonally across a field here - the farmer has helpfully (?) weedkillered a path across so it’s easy to follow - probably preferable to do that than have people wandering over his crops I guess! 

Wisteria flowering - a proper sign of spring!
 Back to the road for a while - past a field with horses in - including the cutest foal probably only a few days old! Plenty of birdlime about too - we were constantly hearing Wrens, Robins and Dunnocks, and got some great views of goldfinches. Also saw MrEH’s first Skylarks of the year too.

NHS window in a house in Potter Street

When we passed the irrigation system below watering a field it seemed quite fitting that it was making rainbows - they have become such a symbol of the work that key workers - and particularly the NHS - are doing at the moment, and the support being shown by the public, I had to stop to get this photo!

With my feet starting to get sore now we crossed the M11 again - underneath this time - and turned back onto another footpath running parallel to the northbound carriageway for a while before branching diagonally across a field with the well known local landmark of the Church Langley water tower off to our left. Some more zigzagging across fields and finally we emerged into the back end of the soulless new development at Newhall - quite a contrast from the lovely villages we’d been walking through!

We were reminded throughout how lucky we are to have access to fantastic open countryside straight from home like this - the total distance we walked was a bit over 6 and a half miles but it felt a lot further from home than that in some ways. It’s a shame really that we rarely walk like this in the local area in normal circumstances - before the zombie apocalypse we’d have hopped into the car to a wildlife reserve, or been out of the area altogether, so it’s rather nice that this is forcing us to appreciate and enjoy what is under our noses! 


Saturday 18 April 2020

Day 26...

A morning of cooking - the Choc Banana. Are that a friend had sent me the recipe for - I deliberately saved a couple of my bananas from the week for this and having had a slice earlier it was definitely worth it!  Also a leek & ricotta tart to make use of the tub of yellow stickered ricotta I got for 30p the other night. It also used up more of the cream bought to go with crumble last weekend so even more of a bonus!

This morning also saw us busy making eyepatches, fabricating bandanas, and in my case printing out a picture of a parrot that I could colour in in rainbow you do! We should have been on Lundy this week as I mentioned previously - and today was the big event that the trip was being organised on account of - Marc’s 50th birthday. As we had planned to travel  across on the boat last week with the entire party dressed as Pirates, our little gang had a virtual birthday party for him this afternoon complete with fancy dress! Great fun and excellent to “see” everyone even if just over Zoom - we’re now planning the same thing for next week.

The parrot has now been stuck to the kitchen window where it will hopefully raise a smile from passers-by - so many households have little things in the windows at the moment - my lovely friend Fay who longer term readers will remember from her “the Wind & the Wellies” blog is changing things each day to amuse their village’s one and only child resident with little messages and stuffed toys doing funny things. Many folk have rainbows and messages of support for the NHS.


Friday 17 April 2020

Day 25…

I’ve been struggling with motivation to run these last few weeks - in spite of having the incentive of the RAF Museum’s latest virtual running challenge - The Hurricane 80km - to spur me on, I’ve just not been feeling the love. Part of the issue has been enjoying my daily walk with MrEH - while he’s up for running once a week, and maybe twice at a push - more than that is a bit much to ask, so we’ve settled into a routine of running maybe once a week, with the other days being a decent walk exploring the local area. The last week though I’ve begun to have a hint of the mojo returning, but was just at a loss to know what final factor might welcome it back fully.

This morning I offered him the option of either a walk or a run - my only proviso being that I wanted to go along the river. We had time whichever he chose as neither of us were working today - but to my delight he opted (with a few grumbles!) for the run option, and so off we went. First the lovely mile long sweep down to the bottom of town, before a climb back up part way into Old Harlow with it’s gorgeous old buildings. Then down again - a brief stretch on the main road before turning down onto the tow path just after the 2 mile point. From there the next two and a bit miles are blissful - birds-a-plenty, peace, quiet, and at that time of the morning you have it almost to yourself - we saw just one other chap who we co-ordinated with carefully to ensure we could pass him (he was walking) while we still maintained social distancing. On my own I would have continued a little further, but at the moment that would have been too far for MrEH so when we reached the well known local landmark of the “ZigZag Bridge” ai stopped my watch tracking and we walked the final mile and a half back home.

I love this route - pre lockdown I ran it most Fridays when I was at home and free to do so - and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this fantastic local haven of peace and tranquility in my routine. And you know what? Somewhere along the way, I might just have found that running mojo again!


Frugal Lockdown Friday part 4...

This week I thought I'd take a closer look at the processes I'm using when it comes to planning meals at the moment. Usually (before the zombie apocalypse, as we've come to think of it) I plan our meals out on a Friday, before I shop for the week ahead. At the moment though we're not doing a single weekly shop, so it's suiting us better to plan just a few days ahead at a time.

The cornerstone of this week's meals was the large pork shoulder joint I cooked for Sunday lunch - slow roasted very gently until it pretty much fell apart, it also yielded plenty of juices, some of which went to make gravy to go with the roast dinner - the rest was popped into the fridge and earmarked for adding to a risotto with some more of the meat for Tuesday night. Another chunk of the joint was shredded, and added to wraps with salad and home made coleslaw for an easy lunch on Monday - the salad leaves were bought a few days ago so needed planning for use nice and early in the week to get it before it was past its best. The final portion of the pork was popped into the freezer for a future meal, while the rest of the salad was earmarked for lunchtime rolls through the week.

While in the freezer, I was reminded that we had the remainder of a pack of meatballs in there which had been there for a while, so as we had peppers, mushrooms and several onions, spaghetti and meatballs made the plan for Wednesday night - allowing that we had sufficient fruit for a few days also, this set me to wondering whether I could stretch out our next trip to the shops until as far ahead as Thursday evening - with there being queues just about everywhere at the moment we've discovered that locally to us the best time to shop does seem to be early evening, so this would be ideal.

Thursday night was - as is frequently the case - down to checking to see what needed using. In the fridge, the last mushrooms, a green pepper going very slightly wrinkly, the last parsnip in the bag, and one of the bargain yellow stickered beetroot. In the larder, a couple of red onions, and a reasonable sized sweet potato. All chopped into roughly even sized pieces, and drizzled with a couple of tablespoons of the oil saved from a jar of preserved garlic cloves, salt, pepper and popped into a hot oven to roast. The freezer also netted some "need to use up" items - the final two potato cakes from a pack, plus some Stornoway Black Pudding that has been there a while and we are now trying to eat our way through - so those were the accompaniments. Not a classic dish by anyone's standards, but super tasty, packed with flavour, and making use not only of what we had - but also avoiding the risk of things going to waste. At the moment more than ever that seems really important - so many people are working so hard to ensure that food gets to the stores at the moment - the very least we can do is to ensure that we use every last scrap of it.

We did indeed shop yesterday evening as planned too - a top up on our levels of fruit and some storecupboard items that we were running low on. As usual I cast an eye over the yellow stickered items in store as well - and some excellent bargains - some mini cheesey fishcakes and a couple of packs of thickly sliced chicken have gone straight to the freezer, and a pack of mushrooms which are good for a few days yet for 25p might make an attempt at a mushroom bhaji tonight. A heavily reduced free range chicken went straight into the oven and that will now form the basis for next week's meals - very likely starting with a chicken curry tonight! Yum!


Thursday 16 April 2020

Day 24...

More exploring this morning - similar area to yesterday but turned left in search of a small reservoir which turned out to be a fishing lake and all fenced off. We did find some interesting graffiti though - and a footpath that sort of isn't any more, but we used it anyway. More new areas for possible running routes too.

Out in the world - the Lockdown is now officially extended for at least another three weeks - some degree of certainty at least, which is in some ways strangely helpful. At least we know where we stand. Social media has exploded with the usual mix of people telling us all why it's ridiculous, and others telling THEM why THEY are ridiculous.

As he was not working today MrEH busied himself with completing the fence repairs on the balcony. Final job n ow is just the last coat of paint on a few of the slats - but all are now firmly fixed in place and looking great - and it's lovely to be able to close the gate without being afraid that a slat will come off in your hand!


Wednesday 15 April 2020

Day 23...

In spite of having carte blanche to make time for exercise once a day at the moment, I'm struggling with motivation to run. I'm struggling a lot with stiff,  achey joints - not unusual for me but it's worse at the moment than it's been for a while. It's a vicious circle - the less I run the worse my joints get, but the more painful the joints are the harder it is to go and run. Having said that, the view we got on our walk this morning just might be enough to overcome the current issues - exploring a new path in a section of the town we rarely visit we found our way through to the edge of Harlow Common - a stunning view straight out onto open countryside, it just made me want to explore it further!

At the moment I'm mixing it up a bit for exercise - trying to make sure we walk for an hour a day, plus any extra we might do when going shopping. Then in between work (which by necessity is happening in short bursts with gaps between them) I'm trying to do either some strength exercises, or some stretching - the latter being absolutely essential to help with the stiffness and pain - it works, if done consistently.

On a future planning level we have our Hebrides holiday dates planned for 2021 now - still not knowing what we're doing for this year it seems a bit odd to be thinking so far ahead, but it also feels important to know that we have something in place. If we can't take our upcoming trip then we also have a plan in place to move that to the Autumn as well - dates still to be confirmed.

It feels quite refreshing to have written an entire blog post  with only a cursory mention of the lockdown situation - but there is little new news on the subject currently, possible slight signs of things becoming more under control are probably too slim as yet to grasp fully, bit signs of hope regardless. People are starting to talk with sight optimism about a possible end to the lockdown sometime next month - we'll need to wait and see on that though.


Tuesday 14 April 2020

Day 22...

Back to work after the long weekend. Or rather, back to working at home - more file shredding for me - boring but necessary! I still feel really grateful to have the work to do - it doesn't bear thinking about how long the days would feel with nothing specific to do, and how much the weeks would drag. I'm actually quietly impressed with how I've coped with things so far - ahead of the lockdown being called I was utterly and completely panicked at the idea of only being able to go outside once a day for the most part, now though, while I am still getting occasional bursts of quite severe anxiety, for the most part I'm finding it far easier to cope with than I expected.

Another day today of shopping from what we have for our evening meal - as you can see above some of the pork from Sunday's roast, plus the juices from the joint went into a risotto with an onion, mushrooms, a couple of handfuls of frozen peas and some finely shredded sage leaves from our wonderful bush just outside the window. Utterly delicious!  I am also enjoying cramming some salad stuff into my lunchtime roll each day - I rarely do this as I worry it will make the roll go soggy (and as those who know me are aware, I do NOT do soggy food!) so at the moment a handful of leaves, some slices of cucumber, and a handful of cherry tomatoes is proving a real pleasure. Today I also added a spoonful of our home made coleslaw alongside too - delicious!


Monday 13 April 2020

Day 21...

The final day of the Easter bank Holiday weekend - colder today, but still plenty of sunshine. For us, more painting - the white metalwork now finished, and the blue paintwork needing just one more coat in a few places. It feels like a job well done, and realistically without the enforced down-time that the lockdown has given us it's also a job that would have been waiting for some time still to come. So still not a good thing, but at least some small positives.

A walk this afternoon took us round Netteswell Pond (above) - another spot that proves Harlow's "Concrete Jungle" reputation to be so much nonsense.  We're so fortunate to have our green spaces - indeed contrary to reports from the town on the BBC news just tonight where a resident of temporary accommodation claimed that the local park has been closed, it very much hasn't.

I also made a start today on looking back at some old airshow photos - another of those jobs that has been sitting there forever but with no sense of urgency. I reckon just doing a few each night will keep my hand in with processing, and also give me some new material for instagram which is always a bonus.

In general news - the Prime Minister is now out of hospital and recuperating at Chequers - the conspiracy theorists are going to town with suggestions that he was never really ill at all - something which seems to show a remarkable lack of respect for the NHS which would, after all, have had to have gone along with such subterfuge had it occurred. We have now been under lockdown for three weeks - the original period finishing today - but we have already been told not to expect things to end any time soon - not though that has come as much of a surprise.


Sunday 12 April 2020

Day 20...

Another mostly sunny and warm day - a few tiny rumbles of thunder and a bit of rain mid afternoon but not enough to prevent us from getting a whole load more painting done. The metalwork is now white again for the first time in the entire time we've lived here. The second table is painted, and the fence slats on the gate need just one more coat to leave them looking just right. These bits are silly niggly little jobs that we've been putting off for ages - but finding spare weekends that we want to commit to doing them is usually the issue - it's not that we didn't have the time, more that we usually found more interesting things to use it for!

We waited until late in the afternoon to head out for a walk - a big figure of eight loop round the Town Park. It's strange being round there with so few others at the moment - even fewer than last weekend thanks to the car parks now all being closed. In fact it seemed to be reassuringly quiet right across the town today - hopefully a sign that most people have been following the lockdown guidelines. One of the most noticeable things at the moment is how audibly quiet everything is - that is another plus point I guess. We're also seeing reports from all over the world  that levels of pollution are falling dramatically as well - unsurprising when you consider there are fewer commutes, less flights being taken, and so many huge office buildings essentially mothballed for the duration. It's quite startling how fast a notable difference has been seen, though. My car has done just 20 miles since we went into Lockdown, and MrEH's has done even fewer - not a situation we often find ourselves in for a 3 week period!

Tasks for tomorrow - some more painting, meal planning for the next few days, taking some time to think about what oddments of shopping we might need to do in the next few days, and maybe getting the broad bean seeds sewn. (We sewed some a few weeks ago but they were very old seeds and haven't germinated). We'll undoubtedly find more odds and ends to be done as we potter about through the day too - strangely enough, filling our time is really not proving difficult.


Saturday 11 April 2020

Day 19...

A day of lazing, not feeling compelled to do anything specific for much of the day. Having worked to improve the balcony yesterday it seemed only polite to make use of it this morning - I was up and sitting out there  shortly after 8am, and almost didn't move apart from to the kettle and back a few times until lunch! Warm enough for shorts and a vest top, it was blissful sitting there with my book, the ipad and a steady supply of tea, and just so rare to feel I can justify the time to do that, too - usually I would feel that there were things I should be doing, or that I ought not to just waste the time sitting around doing - essentially - nothing. Of course ultimately it's NOT nothing though is it - it's relaxing, recharging, taking time to think, to just be. Maybe we should allow ourselves to do that more often?

Lunch was jacket potatoes with cheese and home made coleslaw - made using one of a bag of yellow-stickered beetroot I got last week, quarter of a red cabbage, a red onion from a bag bought on the Aldi super 6 a few weeks ago, and a carrot. A good dollop of mayo stirred in and it tastes miles better than anything you'd buy in the shops, and for a fraction of the cost. It made a whole big plastic tub full as well - which will last in the fridge for several days so we will be having dollops of that on all sorts of things for a little while - yum!

A brief walk to the shop late afternoon for a joint of meat for tomorrow's lunch- a large chunk of pork shoulder which I'll slow-roast almost into pulled pork. That was my productive thing for the day, and also our exercise. Constructive was continuing the bits and pieces on the balcony - re-woodstaining the two tables and the wooden fence slats on the gate a bright, cheerful blue, and making a start on wire-brushing the metal section of fence on the opposite side ready for painting, which might well happen tomorrow along with the second coats of the blue. And the Just for me thing - that was those glorious hours this morning, just sitting, enjoying the sunshine.


Friday 10 April 2020

Day 18...

I was talking to a lady in the queue at the supermarket earlier (yes, ThaT one) - something which seems to happen a lot more now, people just randomly talking to total strangers. I’ve always had a habit of doing this - much to the consternation of others sometimes, but these days it - like smiling at people in the street - seems to be on the increase. We were agreeing that never again in our lifetime will we be given this amount of freedom to simply do nothing, if that is how we decide to spend that time. It feels almost self indulgent to say it, but it is strangely relaxing in many ways - at least once you set aside the reason behind it for even a short while. It does feel strange, and even slightly guilt-inducing to say, but that does feel like a treat, although when off-set by all the cancellations of events that people were looking forward to, still really not worth the trade-off.

On that subject - as we speak, MrEH and I should be arriving down in Ilfracombe ready to travel to Lundy tomorrow with a huge group of friends for Marc’s 50th birthday. He’s been planning this for 7 long years - the entire island (aside from the campsite) was booked as long ahead as it was possible to do so and we had so many plans for the trip - but it was not to be. I feel devastated on his behalf - all that planning, all that time - only to have to cancel , or rather be cancelled, just a few weeks ahead. He’s been stoic as ever about it and we are now re-planning for that trip in 2 years time, but still, a bitter pill. And everywhere people are dealing with similar disappointments - perhaps not on quite such a scale, but still heartbreaking for the individuals concerned. I know that come “sailing time” tomorrow we will very much be conscious of missing  Marc, Laura, their kids, Tony, James, Sarah, Bagsy, Andy & Helen, Giz, Kirsten, Andy, Robin, Anne & Mr House - plus all the many other friends who were to be involved in this trip. It IS tough to cope with “fun stuff” being cancelled - and if you are struggling to deal with similar disappointments, don’t underestimate that, but do remember that you really are in the majority with this one.

Today then - productive, Mum & Dad’s shopping. Mum is in the high risk group, Dad is classed as vulnerable, and while they have both agreed that they are not going to entirely isolate themselves for 12 weeks, going in and out of shops regularly is a risk too far, so I’ve happily taken on that role. Constructive - having another session of clearing up and fixing stuff on the balcony. A fence, long collapsing and now dismantled so we can establish how best to repair it, some general tidying, a table that was beginning to fall apart fixed. We now have space to sit out here comfortably. Exercise - combined with a trip to our local Artisan bakery and independent sausage shop it made a 5.5 mile walk early in the day. And for me - a bit of all of the above really. It’s nice to feel that I can be of help to my parents - we’ve never been an “in your pocket” family, and sometimes it does feel as though I ought to do more - but as we have found out before, we’re there for each other when it counts, without question. The balcony is a wonderful little space for me - the picture at the top is the view as I sit here typing on the iPad, it’s a little haven really and since we moved in I’ve always loved spending time out here. Just taking time - to achieve the small jobs that get put off, and to take time to sit as we are now - me typing this with a glass of wine, MrEH with his crossword and a beer.


Frugal Lockdown Friday - Part 3...

As I mentioned last week, we're among the many households that are losing income as a result of the current situation with COVID-19 - thanks to the work we put in a few years ago to pay off our mortgage early, we are in far better circumstances than many to cope with this, but still, we have lost over 30% of our income, and that in itself means that a bit of planning was required ready for the end of the month.

Our first step was to write down everything we pay for currently in a month - and total them up. That included money that we would usually send to savings - it's a full picture of our own financial position in an average month. The fact that we budget for a lot of our spending right across a year rather than paying things as they arise out of that month's pay helped here - for two reasons. Firstly  we tend to run at a bit of surplus in some areas - our car account is a good example, we know that there is already enough money sitting there for our car insurance and breakdown cover renewals which will happen in August, even if we were unable to save anything further there for several months. Secondly though, the very fact that we DO budget means that we know how much we spend on things like food each month, and that in itself helps when it comes to working out what money we need to meet our basic requirements.

Once we had our total we could see how far short we were with the revised income to be able to meet the same expenditure next month - and as we work to a zero baseline (every penny is spoken for whether on expenditure or savings) that figure was larger than ideal - however this is the point at which you start going through to work out what can be reduced. For us the first port of call on this was our personal spending money (as we're not going anywhere), diesel money (as we're not going anywhere) and money for travel (as we're not...oh, you get the picture!). Once we worked out how much we would be reducing our outgoings by with those bits, the final step for us was to reduce the amount going to savings - again there though we needed to work through priorities.

We've been diverting our monthly surplus towards rebuilding the account we think of as our "emergency fund"  - although in the traditional sense it's not purely reserved for emergencies only. Ours had taken a battering early last year as a result of the much needed electrical works we had done and then the sooner-than-planned need to replace my car. Half the cost of the replacement car got put onto a 0% credit card - although we had the full cost saved it made more sense to keep that money in our account for as long as possible - but the remainder had to be paid out at the time of purchase. We've been gently rebuilding ever since with a combination of the monthly surplus, some lump sums from maturing regular saver accounts, and the council tax & water rates payments from February & March. Now though that will grind to a halt for a while. The same applies to additional money going to our long term savings too.Our two regular saver accounts we plan to continue contributing to as normal for as long as possible - we can still just about stretch to the usual amount going there for the time being, and they are our only savings accounts with half decent interest rates currently - so while we can, they are our priority for the money we can still save each month.

If like many you aren't in a position where it's only savings that will be affected by a drop in income, then you first need to prioritise. Do your sums to start with - if you can afford to make ends meet, allowing for the reduction in general spending, commuting costs etc, then do so. As we have said before - priorities are mortgage or rent, council tax, heat, light, water, and food. If you absolutely need to then you may be able to get a payment holiday for up to three months of mortgage payments - but please only do this if you have to as it will add cost to the end of your loan. Similarly with deferring rent payments - remember that it will have to be paid eventually so be sure you are confident that you will be able to catch up. If you are struggling to make debt payments to unsecured debts - loans, or credit cards - then contact the lenders, let them know you have had a reduction in income and ask that they freeze interest until the COVID-19 crisis is declared over. Some will - we've already seen examples of this If you are currently using an overdraft then there are changes coming to these that will benefit you also - and many high street banks are delaying the introduction of higher interest charges here, also.  You can also go through your budget to see where else you might want to save - this is a decent time to make sure you're not overpaying on utilities for example, and as switching is automated there shouldn't be a problem with changing if needed either. For a lot of people - and particularly at the moment, a short term saving can also be made on food shopping - it feels like I saw this every time I write one of these, but audit your freezer, fridge, cupboards and larder/storecupboard if you have one - get a full list of everything you have in, plan meals using those items, prioritising anything that needs using up quickly, and then make a shopping list for ONLY the items you actually need. Not only will it cut your spending, it will cut your food waste as well - a win on all counts.

Remember that this situation will end eventually and hopefully for many the financial side of things will then revert to normal - however the actual timescale for this is currently incredibly uncertain. A lot of the key financial support packages are in place for an initial three month period, so it's probably sensible to assume that we could be looking at this sort of timescale. Budget accordingly, but be prepared to adjust as time goes on. If you haven't currently had a drop in income, then plan and act as though you have - stash aside any spare money you can save as this future-proofs you to a degree should the worst happen.


Thursday 9 April 2020

Day 17...

One of our town's main road during rush hour this morning!

News: The PM has been moved out of Intensive Care, we have been officially told that the lockdown will not be ending at the end of the initial 21 day period (not a great surprise to anyone, I don't believe!) and a warning has been issued to people to ensure that they continue to follow the guidelines over the long weekend. Locally, our council have now locked up the car parks that serve the Town Park - a bit of a surprise as they weren't particularly busy last weekend, but with good weather forecast for at least part of the Easter break, it's probably sensible.

MrEH has had his first three day week, and seemed to manage to fill a solo day off today while I continued to work. In fairness, he's spent enough years heading off to work on a Friday leaving me to be a lady of leisure so this is not entirely unreasonable. We've agreed that on those weekdays where I am working and he is not, we'll continue to get up at the same time as usual and stick to our routine with regard to getting out first thing for either exercise or shopping if any is needed.

I'm still planning meals around a combination of what we have in the freezer and what we have that needs using up - although this week's food has has quite a familiar pre-lockdown look to it. When MrEH was at the supermarket this morning he managed to get a tub of their fresh egg noodles, which fitted well with the stir fry I had planned - a piece of frying steak from the freezer, with veg mostly from the fridge - the last courgette, the final chunk of cabbage, a rather withered chilli, a carrot, the last of the bag of kale...with a handful each of frozen mushrooms and peppers from the freezer. Tasty and packed full of a nice mix of varied veg too towards our five a day. Planning that way also helps to ensure we have no food waste - which feels even more important at the moment. (Oddly enough having popped over to have a read of Sue's Challenging Myself blog and see she has written about something very similar today!)

The shortages of various products in the supermarket are definitely beginning to ease now, although there are still items that I haven't seen any sign of in literally weeks - pasta, which isn't a problem because we always have a couple of bags in anyway, and bread flour - which will shortly become a problem - we're onto the very end of our only bag of wholemeal, and have started our last bag of white. Apparently the mills are finding there is still a huge demand for it, and are struggling to get sufficient into the small bags that go to supermarkets to meet that demand. We have enough for another couple of weeks, but have now started consciously searching in each store we visit to see if they have any. We may visit the lovely local bakery tomorrow - I believe they were due a flour delivery today so fingers crossed it didn't all sell this afternoon!


Wednesday 8 April 2020

Day 16...

Everyone has now started losing track of the days of the week - on the MSE Forums where I post regularly it feels like every second thread starts with "I couldn't work out what day it was today! I'm not finding it too bad at the moment, partly because I'm working 4 days a week I guess. I confess that I'm extremely glad to have work to do at the moment as well - if nothing else if fills the days.

We're planning some nice food for the weekend - MrEH chose brownies to be what gets baked, and I'll probably try to get those done early in the day on Friday so I can take a couple to Mum & Dad when I go over with their shopping. I'm going to do a roast again, and might make sausage rolls I think too - we picked up a yellow stickered pack of ready rolled shortcrust pastry the other week and it's been sitting in the freezer ready to be used for something. There will also of course be cheese - well there's always cheese! One advantage for the past couple of weeks has also been having time to cook a sunday roast - so often we have other plans for Sundays that don't lend themselves to the time needed to give to a roast dinner, so this is feeling like a real treat.

I've been playing with the macro lens again - it is a lens I've had in my kit for a good few years now. In fact, I also thought for a long while that it was one of those too badly affected by internal fungus to be useable - for years I thought I'd long since thrown it out, but when we were decluttering a few months back one of the things we went through was the trunk I used to keep all sorts of photo stuff in, and to my delight, in the bottom of an old lens carrying case, I found the macro lens. The delight increased when I discovered that in fact it had almost no fungus damage at all - and it's hardly been off the camera since. I love the way it has the ability to bring out the really fine detail - like the scratches and dents in my wedding ring in the photo above. I can see it getting a fair bit more use in the next little while!


Tuesday 7 April 2020

Day 15...

The Prime Minister remains in intensive care but not on a ventilator, we are told. It's been nice to see the good wishes flowing his way - not only from members of his own political party but also from those in opposition, other leaders, and indeed many inside the NHS as well. Those who choose instead to ill-wish him are being rightly shouted down at almost every turn now - which feels rather more reassuring for humanity!

Here, it's starting to feel as though a pattern is forming. Awake slightly later than in "real life" - the lack of a commute gives us a little time to read with a cup of tea (me) or coffee (MrEH) before often heading out for some exercise - a walk or run most often. Then home, a shower and cracking on with work. Having our lunchbreak together is really nice - we often speak on the phone at lunch anyway. Then more work through the afternoon, followed then if needed by popping out for any shopping if we need it - either a walk down our quiet, leafy back lane to Aldi, or a wander through the woods to Tesco - either way we rarely see anyone else en route. Home, dinner and either something non-challenging on TV or settling down with a bool, or for me, time to write this blog. As so often happens with the routine comes a degree of calmness - everything feels at least a little more settled.

We have the Easter weekend coming up of course - usually a time when we would be heading away somewhere, indeed we were meant to be! This Easter is going to be rather different - in fact it was only yesterday that it occurred to me that it WAS the long weekend coming up! We're planning some outside jobs, working out whether we have enough of our decking tiles still surviving to go back down, maybe sewing some more seeds, and a repair to the little fence at one end of the balcony. Probably some more baking - maybe cakes and biscuits this weekend, although I was also reminded earlier that I want to have another go at making oatcakes. Either a walk or a run every day. We also have games, jigsaws and films to watch, and plentiful books to read - none of which is a perfect substitute for the drive down to Devon followed by week on Lundy that we had planned, but it can't be helped, so we will make the best of it.


Monday 6 April 2020

Day 14...

It suddenly feels like spring has arrived properly - temperatures are still pleasant, and although there was a little light rain this morning, overall it's been another really pleasant day.  We decided to leave exercise until the end of the working day - mostly because of that rain - and instead of a run or a walk we headed across to the field with badminton rackets and shuttlecocks.

Working from home still feels alien to me - partly because I'm not feeling as though I'm really filling my day, although that's not anything I can help. As much as anything else though it's because so much of my working day usually involves interaction with others - whether the partners in the firm I work for, our clients, or those who come to our offices - so a working day with no direct interaction with those people seems very strange indeed, and I'm not sure it's something I'll get used to any time soon.

One first for  me tonight was a Zoom video natter with a group of great friends - very lovely indeed to catch up although slightly odd to try to get used to! I've never used anything like facetime before, and for a one-to-one chat I still think I prefer a straight voice call, but for a group chat like that the video thing does work really well.

The big news of the day in the UK is the the Prime Minister, admitted to hospital yesterday after his symptoms of the virus proved to be persistent, has now been moved to intensive care. We are being told that this is as a precaution but it still feels rather alarming - I'm not sure I can think of an equivalent situation from any other period in UK history.


Sunday 5 April 2020

Day....shhhhh... ;-)

We should  have spent this weekend in York, sharing accommodation with 6 pals, attending the CAMRA members weekend, AGM and conference, meeting up with countless other friends and exploring some of the mighty fine pubs the city has to offer. The weather has been glorious and it would have been fabulous to have spent the weekend in such a gorgeous location, but sadly it wasn't to be. Oddly enough I haven't really missed the event, but I have missed the people I should have been there with.

In some ways it feels as though we are currently in closer contact with some folk than we ordinarily would be - things like WhatsApp groups are coming into their own, we have a family one with the Devon family, and I'm in a number of others as well, all of which are lively and chatty at the moment - not a substitute for the usual types of social contact we'd have, but great ways to stay in touch none the less. A group of friends are planning on "getting together" for a catch up tomorrow evening on a video chat - although I'm not certain I'll be able to make it work here, our internet signal is not the best and last time we tried to do a video call it really didn't work! We'll see though, it might be that it works better through my iPad than it did on my phone, who knows!  Another thing that has taken off online is "Virtual pubs" - Facebook has several and CAMRA have now launched their own also - the Red OnLion. One of the things we were really concerned about when the severity of the outbreak and the steps needed to counter the risks was that with the closure of the pubs, and the cancellation or postponement of beer festivals it was going to leave a huge tranche of people with pretty much no social life at all - of course since then it has moved on to us ALL having no social life in the traditional sense, but it must still be remembered that there are some people out there who have little day to day contact with others, so these online "meeting places" really are very important for helping people to feel less isolated.

This has been another weekend which hasn't felt so different to normal -and oddly enough we're still finding ourselves struggling to find time for all we want to do. Probably a good thing, I'd say!


Saturday 4 April 2020

Day 12...

A nice "pottery" sort of day here - I've talked before on here about the fact that I can quite happily potter about doing odds and ends, and bits and pieces. One of my concerns about the lockdown was that I might start to find I was getting bored with that, but so far so good and I'm really not struggling overmuch to fill the extra time I've found myself with. Part of the battle there has been to let go of the feeling that I must be doing "something" all of the time - there seems to be a real feeling running through some parts of social media at the moment that we must all come out of these weeks with some form of devastating new skill, and it's incredibly easy to get sucked into that. Now if that's what you want to do then brilliant - go you. If you're doing it because you feel you *should* though - then take a step back and think of letting go - this is a stressful time, it's absolutely fine to not be OK about what we're going through, so if you're feeling a bit scared and overwhelmed about the whole situation then join the club - I certainly am! You absolutely don't need to pile any more pressure on yourself by feeling that you have to learn to play the banjo, learn Swahili or have knitted yourself a three-piece-suit using unravelled jumpers from the back of the wardrobe.

So today then - exercise this morning was a fitness session over at the playing field, called by MrEH, this was his chance to get his revenge for the running! (And as we did burpees, we can consider that he did!) The home and lunch before heading across to Sainsburys for some shopping. We've been trying as far as possible to not use the cars - basically we've agreed that we'll only really use one or other if we need to drop anything off to Mum & Dad's - which means we're going our own shopping on foot. So an amble to the other side of town this afternoon, and back again before getting another new cake recipe on the go - coconut cakes from Jane Brocket's "Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer" book of recipes from childrens books. These are actually "Mrs Banks Bribery & Corruption Cocoanut Cakes" from Mary Poppins. Rather than the coconut buttercream topping suggested in the recipe we topped ours with a glace icing using stewed redcurrants and some more coconut - delicious and just enough tartness from the fruit to offset the sweetness.

Most of the latter part of the afternoon was spent jigsawing - something we do rarely but really enjoy! We often do at least one jigsaw on holiday, and Christmas week on Lundy saw jigsaws constantly on the go on the big dining table at the house and even in the pub! We're ordered a couple more, second hand from eBay so those should keep us going for a few more weekends yet too - and then there's always Monopoly, Scabble, Yahtzee...


Friday 3 April 2020

Day 11

Another "normal ish" Friday for me - keeping to a regular sort of routine has so far worked really well for me - although that will change next week as MrEH will not be working either - however, there is still probably quite a few ways we can "keep things normal" - and one thing I AM looking forward to is being able to have my music on during the day again - as he's  been working the last two weeks it's been a music free zone round here, and as I said to him earlier, he has no IDEA how much of a usual Friday I spend dancing around the kitchen or front room!

One routine I am determined to leave unchanged is a run first thing on a Friday - and I need to gently build MrEh's distance up until we can return to the river for that as we are mostly running together now. I've avoided it for the past few weeks as I have a feeling it's likely to be busier than it would usually be, but fingers crossed that might be easing a bit now. We might walk that way over the weekend to see the lie of the land, perhaps.

The weather is meant to be improving over the weekend with Sunday being forecast to be quite warm - and that is leading to concerns about people deciding to defy the lockdown by heading out for "normal" sorts of days out. It's frustrating thinking that people might be foolish enough to do this, not least because the logical next step after that is that we will be told that we can no longer go out for exercise or for any purpose that is not essential - I'm trying not to dwell on it too much as there's nothing I can do about it, so nothing to be gained by fretting over the possibility.

Today then - a run, Mum & Dad's shopping got and a chat with them from the socially-distanced end of their path, epilated my legs (all the glamour here), and some general tidying and pottering done around the house. The notables from the news - the new NHS Nightingale emergency hospital at London's Excel Centre was opened by the Prince of Wales...via video link! And the Queen is to make a broadcast to the nation on Sunday evening - something which other than at Christmas is reserved for times of national emergency.


Frugal Lockdown Friday - part 2!

Remember last week I said there were two camps of people? Well now it's time to take a look at the second one - the people who have had their lightbulb moment and now realise they want to do something about their finances. One thing that can sometimes come out of a bad or stressful situation is that it makes people look at their lives in a bit more detail, and quite often one thing that comes from that is that people decide that they want to get their financial house in order. At the moment one thing that a lot of us have is additional free time, so now is the perfect time to make a few changes...

So - you likely have some debt, probably you can make your monthly payments each month as long as your income remains stable, but now you may have started wondering what happens about those payments if you have to take a drop in income, and that is why it's a good time to tackle things. The huge advantage that many of us have right now is that our outgoings will drop fairly dramatically - no commuting costs, none of the costs associated with going out and about as you usually might, reduced spends on entertainment and very probably reduced spends on other purchases too - as you're not going to places which might usually tempt you to impulse buy, for example. To harness those savings is the first thing, and then to work out where you may be able to make further reductions in outgoings should probably be the second. While doing this though, take a moment to think about areas of spending that might increase slightly - electricity, gas and water costs (if your water is metered) are the likely candidates here, so factor in increases there before starting.

Normal debt-busting advice might be to cut all spending on luxuries to the bone - and indeed if you fear you are about to lose income imminently, and would then be unable to meet your outgoings each month, then that may still be needed. For those who are just looking to get their houses in order more generally though, this is probably not the right time for a complete back to basics regime. There are more than enough new things to get used to at this moment in time -so for now concentrate on making savings where you can but without reducing your quality of life too drastically. Looking for the easy wins is the way forwards here -
- take a look at your gas and electricity tariffs to make sure you are on the best one for your needs;
- If you are out of contract on your mobile phone, take a look at SIM only deals, look for one from a competitor to your current provider, then call your current provider, give them the details and tell them that they are too expensive - most will try to match the deal to retain you as a customer;
- If you have satellite TV, again if you are out of contract ring your provider and haggle;
- check the dates that insurances are due for renewal - note them down, then have a read of the guides to the best ways of driving costs down for home or car insurance while still getting the cover you need. Car breakdown cover can be haggled down too;
- go through your bank statements and look at your payments one by one - are there direct debits going out for subscriptions you no longer want or memberships you no longer need? Get them cancelled!
- Specific to this point in time - is there anything you are paying for that because of the current situation in the UK you are unable to use? Gym memberships are a prime candidate here - contact the provider and ask them what they plan to do to compensate you for a service you are unable to use.
- Have you got any events or travel booked that has now been cancelled? If so make sure that you chase up or apply for any refunds you might be due - hotels bookings, train tickets, all sorts of usually non refundable things are currently able to be reclaimed.

Once you have worked out where you can make savings, turn your attention to whatever debts you might have - if you have any credit cards that you are paying interest on, then use a resource like the MoneySavingExpert Credit Club (free to join) to establish whether you might qualify for a 0% balance transfer card to move them to. If you can't get everything onto 0% then the next approach is to arrange them all into order with the highest interest rates at the top - then whatever surplus you can create with your savings, you will be able to pay off the most expensive card first. If you have no credit cards, but do have loans, then take a read through the conditions to establish what you can do about making overpayments to those. If no cards or loans, but you  have a mortgage then yes, you've guessed it, overpayments are frequently allowed there too!

Another area you might want to look at once you've established how much surplus you can free up from your finances each month is budgeting further ahead for things like insurances etc. Again you can give yourself a real head start at the moment with the savings that you might be making on normal expenditure. Take your car insurance as an example - let's say you'd usually pay it in monthly instalments, and it renews in August. You're expecting to pay around £350 for your year's cover. Firstly, you currently pay a premium to pay monthly - so by paying upfront you'll probably see a drop in the total amount, so let's say £330 for the year. With your renewal in August that gives you 4 months paypackets to get the total amount together - £82.50 each month. When August rolls around, you pay the total upfront, pocket the saving, and then adjust your monthly saving towards the following year's renewal down to £30.25 per month - that will then cover you for a 10% increase in your premium for the next year. You can do the same thing with car tax, home insurance, breakdown cover, and even things like phone line rental too - and pretty much always there are savings to be made.

So there you go - use some of that gift of additional time and saved money that you currently have and make it work for you. God knows this current situation we find ourselves in is - let's be blunt - pretty shit, so let's all grab the advantages where we can. If we have to spend more time at home, then let's seize that time and use it to allow us to emerge from the other side of this in a better financial state.  Over to you!