Friday 30 April 2021

Frugal Friday...

 ...the (hopefully!) final lockdown summary!

It’s been a strange old year hasn’t it - for many, a really stressful one on the money front, with job loss or furlough hitting hard. For others, income has remained stable but spending has dropped drastically as there has simply been little to spend on. We have, perhaps somewhat unusually, seen both sides of this - the first lockdown saw MrEH switched to a three day week for a while with accompanying drop in salary, and me furloughed. Although my furlough has continued, thankfully MrEH’s working hours and money went back to usual a few months down the line. (I say thankfully, that was about the money, less so about the hours!)

On a personal level because I’m still putting the same contribution to our joint account each month, my own disposable income has taken a significant drop. It hasn’t been a major problem as yet because as said, there has been little to spend on - in fact I’ve mostly managed to continue to save at least some money each month, but with things now opening up and even some airshows re-starting, money is going to start feeling rather tighter. I’m hopeful that I might be back working before too long though so fingers crossed there. 

In terms of household spending, most of our essential spending categories have either stayed much  the same (gas bill, council tax, service charge & garage rent, water rates, broadband & phone), increased somewhat (electricity - which we use for heating - and food) or dropped substantially - commuting. Discretionary spending - “fun” money, both joint and personal, and the money we set aside for random weekends away - has dropped hugely, not surprisingly. We set aside money each month to pay towards holidays, and also ongoing car costs, and have continued with this as usual, meaning that quite a surplus has build up in the car account now - this will be used as a lump sum to go towards a replacement car for MrEH as his 55 plate Citroen won’t work for our commute come later in the year. 

One of the things I struggled the most with early last year when the pandemic first hit was the increase in food costs - with our usual £175 per month budget increasing by anything up to £100. Two significant factors to this though - one was shopping more regularly because we switched to mainly making shopping trips on foot rather than using the car, and the other was undoubtedly buying beer for home drinking in the supermarket, as well as placing online orders direct with breweries we wanted to support on an occasional basis also. It was inevitable it was going to happen - we’d usually eat out at least once a week, often more if we had a beer festival meeting or a day out with friends, but of course usually that money would be taken from either the “fun” spending budget or from our personal accounts. Similarly with beers - we would usually drink at the rugby club at least once over a weekend, and if not that, then chances are we’ll be off somewhere with friends. 

As a  Household, we fall roundly into the section of the U.K. that has actually managed to stash extra into savings over the period of the pandemic. During those first months when we were on a really reduced income, had we still had a mortgage it would however have been a very different picture - I’ll not be apologising for THAT though because we worked hard and went without things previously to pay it off early - this recent period of time more than any other goes to truly prove the benefit of that decision too. Personally I’ve unsurprisingly not been able to continue with my usual savings - although I have managed to continue to save some amounts here and there. The one area of my savings that does currently look quite healthy is my airshow savings account as I have managed to keep feeding a bit of money here and there to that, and of course it’s seen a lot less ticket purchases, accommodation bookings etc as well. The unusually high monthly surplus from the joint account will gradually start to reduce again now as things ease back towards normality though - but the extra money in savings and the fact that we’ve been able to do things like a rather longer Christmas Hebrides trip, and our recent week away in Cornwall as an “extra” trip is at least some consolation for all the things we’ve had cancelled because of the Covid situation. 

We made a couple of large purchases in the year, but both already had the money set aside for them and have been balance transferred onto 0% cards to keep the money sitting in our accounts for as long as possible - for what THAT’s worth. There are however some early signs that interest rates for savings might be beginning to creep back up slightly - fingers crossed. The refunded money for our cancelled Lundy trip from last year has also been safely stashed away ready to cover the costs when we need to pay out for the rebooked date. 

Hopefully you are also in the category of feeling financially, if not mentally better off after the last year. Maybe you’ve managed to pay off some additional debt, or knock a bit extra off a mortgage, or perhaps like us you’re just feeling an added degree of security from a bit extra in savings. If not, and you are feeling the pinch, then please do remember that help always just a click away at the Money Saving Expert forums, or from the various free debt advice charities. 


Thursday 22 April 2021

Good news!


A highlight of our week away was centred on some news from rather a long way away from Cornwall - in fact rather than the extreme south-west of England, this referred to the extreme north west of Scotland. With lockdown easing happening across the UK, many in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland among others had been bitterly unhappy that while everywhere else was being given at least a rough “roadmap” around what was predicted to happen with travel in their areas, on the subject of travel to Scottish Islands all that was being heard was a deafening silence. t one stage the suggestion was made that the islands could have an earlier relaxation of restrictions around the hospitality industry in exchange for a delayed return to travel - unsurprisingly it was somewhat sarcastically pointed out that there is precious little point in being able to open hotels etc if nobody is allowed to travel to use them... Many island accommodation providers were experiencing existing bookings cancelling in their droves as people, unsure whether they were going to be able to travel, opted for a mainland holiday instead. We were facing similar uncertainty, but fortunately were in the lucky position of being able to book the Cornish trip in part in case our planned Hebrides visit was unable to go ahead - many others aren’t in that position. 

Finally, last week, an announcement was made by the First Minister that on 26th April all travel restrictions would be removed - between Scotland and England AND between mainland Scotland and the Islands - a huge relief not only to us and many others with trips booked, but also to the huge number of islanders who rely on visitors being able to actually visit to keep their heads above water. 

From our perspective, having just returned from one holiday we’re now in the slightly odd position of preparing for another one! It feels rather decadent, but we’re refusing to feel guilty about it - booking the Cornish trip was absolutely the right thing to do, and we had a fabulous time. The last year has been ludicrously tough for almost everyone, and us as much as anyone else, and it definitely feels like the right thing to do to ensure that we grab chances to do stuff now while we can, in part to make up for all the disappointments of so much being cancelled previously. In other “things to look forward to” plans, I have also started getting some more airshows booked - Max and I are teaming up to do another Shuttleworth show, and I have also booked an event at Duxford as well as taking out a years membership there. I’ve got a few more shows in mind to book too, although it does seem unlikely that many of the big seafront shows will go ahead this year. 

Here’s to future plans then - at this rate I’ll need to buy a diary! 


Wednesday 21 April 2021


Saturday was inevitably always going to be a slightly odd day. With the funeral for the Duke of Edinburgh happening in the mid afternoon, and us both not exactly “wanting” to watch it, but feeling as though it was too historically significant not to, as well as being somehow respectful, we took the decision to get out fairly early to be able to pack as much into the earlier part of the day as possible. 

First stop was a favourite spot - the Basset Monument at Carn Brea. We tend to park down just outside Carnkie village and walk up - it’s a nice, if uneven walk, and a fairly gentle way to cover the 300ft of climb to the top. It also has truly stunning views almost all the way up, but when you get to the top you can see fully to the sea across Redruth and Camborne, just beautiful! 

 From there, we headed to Ponsanooth, where, in a little unit tucked away behind a rather impressive railway viaduct the Dynamite Valley Brewery can be found. During our week we’d made efforts to track down plenty of good Cornish beer from various different breweries, but the Dynamite Valley Black Charge that we bought a bottle of from the village shop in Coverack stood out as something rather special. It also came with a voucher for a free half pint of beer at the “Beer cafe” at the brewery, which just happened to have its first day reopened since lockdown on Saturday...! 

So we had some beer - just the half pint for me because I was driving, but MrEH sampled one of each of the three beers they were serving. And then, because we needed to eat somewhere, and the offerings from “The Aussie Smoker” on site sounded rather outstanding...

As you can see, they didn’t disappoint, either! That is chicken, cheese, bacon, spinach, and some rather incredible barbecue sauce stuffed into a tasty roll, with truly excellent seasoned fries. Well worth the £10 price tag, and I for one was completely stuffed when I (finally!) managed to finish mine! We also left the brewery having purchased two cases of their beer, which will help to keep us going for a while back at home. 

From there it was back to the house to turn on the TV and be ready for the National minute’s silence at 3pm. It was strange, honouring that while looking out over a beach with children and adults playing happily, although I was pleased to see that it did quieten down noticeably in the run up to the silence. In common with the majority of the country I found the sight of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone in the chapel heartbreaking - it’s impossible for almost any of us to really understand quite how bereft she must have been feeling, with the man she had loved for over 80 years no longer by her side. Sad also that she was unable to receive the comfort that her children in particular must have been quite desperate to give, due to the restrictions still in place around Covid. I’m sure though that she would be the first to say that it is no more than so many others across the country have gone through in the past year. 


Saturday 17 April 2021

Hills for miles...


We’ve done a lot of walking this week. Almost every day has ended with us saying we’d have a bit of a lazier day on the next, to give my poor foot a bit of a break, and each time we’ve said it we’ve failed entirely to make good on the idea! A lot of that walking has also by necessity involved hills -  Cornwall is by nature a pretty hilly county, and the bits round the coast all the more so. As I by nature gravitate towards water, we’ve done much of our walking by the sea...

Yesterday’s nearly 10 miles were across on the other side of the Lizard from where we’re staying - from The Loe - Cornwall’s largest freshwater lake, along to Gunwalloe and then on to Poldhu using the coast path, then back to Gunwalloe and returning to the car via the beach. And of course you can’t go to Poldhu without visiting the wonderful Poldhu Beach Cafe. And you can’t visit the cafe without having a hot chocolate....look.... 

See?  This is the “special” hot chocolate, and yes - it tasted every bit as good as it looked, too! I’m a bit funny with hot chocolate as a rule - sometimes it can be way too sweet for me, and a real struggle to drink, but this one was just perfect! 

We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather this week - I’m conscious that the photos I’ve been posting both here and elsewhere on social media are all very “blue skies and sunshine” but in fact that is exactly how it’s been - although quite chilly at times, and especially in the evenings, the days have been beautiful. Mr EH has worn shorts for a good part of the week, and we’ve both spent a reasonable amount of time in short sleeves. Holidaying for a week in the U.K. you do expect at least some rain, but we’re certainly not complaining about not having seen any this week! 

As it wasn’t too late when we arrived back at the car, we decided to head a little further south to Lizard Point again to see if I could track down the Choughs for some photos. Although we had fabulous views of them earlier in the week, I’d not taken my camera with me, and as I was keen to get some shots if at all possible, and we were in the right area already, we decided to go back. We retraced our steps from the previous visit, but to no avail, there were plenty of Jackdaws but no Choughs to be seen. The final hope was to head back round the lighthouse to the car, and as you can see from the picture above, it paid off! This shot was taken on my Canon 80D with its built in WiFi meaning I was able to transfer it to the phone and process on there. I don’t use this method too often as the results are nowhere near as good as “proper” processing via a laptop, but it does mean that sometimes I can play with the odd shot like this. I’m delighted to have got some photos of these fantastic birds, anyway! 


Friday 16 April 2021

More Cornish Ramblings...


Yesterday started out in St Ives - a beautiful little town we always try to visit when we’re down this way. The best way to arrive is by train, it basically makes you feel as though you’re stepping into an Enid Blyton story  - not really doable this time sadly. This time we discovered a Farmers market - always a good thing, as they often sell things like beer, cheese and millionaires shortbread (guess what we bought?!) and also a rather wonderful off license which as well as some more nice beer, also turned out to stock one of my favourite gins - Curio. 

On the way back up the hill to the car we spotted this rather fabulous mural...

...and even more fabulously the owner of the building saw me photographing it and came out to tell us the story of it - what a treat! We then called in for a wander at RSPB Hayle Estuary - a reserve we visited briefly last time we were down this way but didn’t have time for more than a quick look. It is impacted quite badly by being dissected by a quite busy road but still we enjoyed it. 

From there it was on to an essential part of any Cornish visit, for us - 

Yes, Padstow and fish and chips from Steins chippy. My parents discovered quite how good this little gem  is many years ago when they were down here, and no Cornish adventure is complete without a visit there, now. Fractionally more expensive than the average, it’s well worth it  as invariably the quality is superb, and this time was no exception. Eaten, as ever, sitting on the harbour side - perfect! 

And finally a walk along the banks of the River Camel before heading off. Another lovely day, albeit another also with rather more walking than my poorly foot is entirely happy with. So far since Monday I have averaged about 11miles walking a day! Next week had better be considerably less active I think! 


Thursday 15 April 2021

A room (house!) with a view...

 On Sunday we packed up the car and, early in the evening, left to drive the 300+ miles down to Cornwall where we had, several months previously, booked a stay in the hope that lockdown would be sufficiently eased by now to allow us to take it. Originally booked to start on the 10th, we had to cancel the first two days as the easing to allow stays away from home wasn’t in place until Monday, however the chap we’re letting the house from kindly agreed that we could get in here for just after 00.00hrs on Monday in order to maximise the time we still had while still staying firmly within what the law allows. 

Obviously we arrived in the dark, but on getting up on Monday morning “proper” this was the view that greeted us...

Pretty stunning, eh? It’s SUCH an amazing view it’s actually quite hard to tear yourself away from it - and indeed that was one of the considerations when I booked, that if we did have dodgy weather and wanted to be outside less then at least we’d still have plenty to look at from the house. In fact the weather so far has been superb, and exploring aplenty has happened! 

We’ve been to Cornwall a few times before - I holidayed here as a child with Auntie D & Uncle B, and MrEH and I have camped at a rather glorious site near Camborne several times. I of course also spent a night at Lands End whenI took part in the inaugural LighthouseRun road rally back in 2004 (?) but one of my favourite spots in the county is undoubtedly even further south, at Lizard Point. The ruined boathouse in the picture above, and probability of seeing the lovely Cornish Chough, and the fact that it is the most southerly point on the U.K. mainland (and that it is generally FAR quieter than the better known Lands End with its hotel and “end to end” connections) all combine to make it somewhere that if down here I always try to visit. 

Tuesday saw a trip to Truro which included a walk along a disused railway line overlooking the river, and then a second walk at Goonhilly Downs NNR - a landscape almost Hebridean in type, with gorse, heather and heathland. Very familiar but also very different as it is almost completely flat, and also peppered with remains of old WWII buildings and installations. A really interesting place to explore! 

Right now breakfast beckons, so I’ll leave you with that taster of our first couple of days (and for those wondering, yes we most certainly HAVE made it back into a pub or two already!) and will post again later on or tomorrow with a few more pictures. For now though, I’ll leave you with another shot from the “House with a view” 


Wednesday 7 April 2021

First steps...

 Couch to 5K - week one, run 2. Run 1 happened last week. The foot is...improving, but not yet fixed, however, I reached the conclusion that not running wasn’t actually making it improve any faster. Things that *were* making it improve faster were less total mileage, more foam rolling, and anti inflammatory gel. So a plan was formed. Reduce my walking on weekdays - I’d been doing anything up to 8 miles most days and even more sometimes, so that needed to come down. The foam rolling is painful but necessary. The anti inflammatory gel 3 times a day is by far the easiest part of this whole procedure! 

Last Tuesday morning I put on my comfiest, most cushioned running shoes (yes, of course I have several different pairs - ask another runner, they’ll explain!) started the C25K app, and reminded myself that the plan here relies on me sticking to the plan. That means only running when the app tells me to run, and keeping the pace slow on those intervals. It also, at the moment, means slowing things down rather overall - the programme usually relies on 3 runs per week but at the moment I plan to cap it at a maximum of 2. Eventually I’d like to get back to a more consistent, regular pattern, but for now it’s about building things back slowly and being prepared to step back again if things with my foot seem to be getting any worse again. 

This morning I walked three miles with MrEH, then came back, switched shoes and got out there for run 2. I opted for trail shoes this time as I was planning my route to be through the woods and round the field - but those are also less cushioned and proved to be a bit of a mistake. I also assumed that the more uneven paths through the woods would help with the slower pace thing. Ummm. No, not so much - that still needs work. It WAS way more fun than just running round the roads though, so until I can get a bit further afield a bit of mud clogging up my road shoes and needing to keep a close eye on my watch for pace is stuff I’ll happily put up with. 

At the moment, it’s hard work. Really hard. You lose running level cardio fitness quite fast when you can’t run, and my last run was Christmas Day. It also builds back again quite fast though, so I know it will get better. I’ve also run the programme before of course, so I know that if you stick to it it works - although my reduced number of runs are very likely going to mean some repeated weeks, but that’s fine too. Slow and steady - no speedwork, no long runs, stay patient and do the work. Just being back out there again is beyond brilliant though - being injured sucks, particularly at a point where you REALLY need running for it’s mental health benefits. And even when it feels tough, those benefits are still very much there. And THAT is why doing the work will be worth it! 


Tuesday 6 April 2021

Signs of a new optimism...

Something we have realised just recently is that over the last year we seem to have seen a lot more wildflowers - during the first lockdown last year of course areas that would usually be mown regularly were left to grow meaning things like the Speedwell in the lawn outside suddenly made its presence felt far more than usual. 

This time of year is always beautiful with the vibrant green of spring appearing everywhere - the willows in particular are looking wonderful just now, giving an almost lime-green tinge to great areas of the countryside.

Everywhere you look too, buds are breaking. The Blackthorn near here having been a riot of frothy white blossom just a week or so ago is now dropping the petals in great drifts, while all the tree’s energy seems to suddenly be going to producing leaves instead - and incredible metamorphosis!

We saw the first bluebells of the year at the weekend - native ones too rather than the pervasive Spanish invaders. It always feels like spring has properly arrived when the bluebells appear - although the sub-zero temperatures overnight and the snow flurries we’ve had do seem to suggest otherwise! The Hebrides had quite a sprinkling of snow this morning and while it didn’t last long I gather it did leave the landscape looking more winter than springlike!

One plant that seems to have thoroughly taken off around here over the past few years are these beautiful little violets - always seen occasionally, there are now great carpets of them on many of our road verges, in every colour from a deep, rich purple right through varying degrees of paleness to pure white. 

 Are there actually more wildflowers this year than usual or are we just seeing them more because we’re looking for the bright cheerful signs of optimism - confirmation that the changing seasons might hopefully bring a bit more of a return to normal? I’m sure someone knows the answer - I just hope that in future years we remember to notice them just as much! 


Monday 5 April 2021

Long weekends and good news..

 Four lovely days of feeling absolutely no pressure to be productive - it doesn’t get much better than that right now! I’ve never been someone who lives for weekends and has a sinking feeling of impending doom on Sunday nights, well aside from a couple of years in a truly toxic job shortly before I got out of the construction industry anyway. Recently though I’ve really started to empathise with the people for who that is just standard, as it has got increasingly harder to fill weekdays. The good news from today though - notably that English lockdown easing continues as scheduled - means that our upcoming planned trip to Cornwall  can definitely now go ahead which is great news for us! 

I’ve actually really enjoyed this weekend - it’s a rare year when we are at home over Easter, and last year lockdown was still too new and raw, alongside the fact that we would otherwise  have been on Lundy celebrating a pal’s birthday - to truly appreciate the novelty of 4 days empty to fill as we wish. 

Among other things done, we’ve bought the plants for the pots that live on the two balconies, and got those planted up - still a few things to find homes for, but first we need to hope they will all survive the frost expected tonight! 

We also got some nice views of the Thames from the RSPB reserve at Rainham - the reserve still has the one way system in place so instead of going right round we opted to dive out onto the river path via the handy one way turnstile gate part way round, and walked up to the hill at the old landfill site with its great views across to that bit of Kent that likes to pretend it’s London. 

More exploring at Amwell too - just a handful of miles up the road but of course very off limits from here for the past few months so it was lovely to be back. Not a long walk, but a stretch of the Amwell Walkway  which is along the line of a former railway, hence the bridge...

...and then more views  - this time from the new-to-us Widbury Hill. Not massively high but a nice short sharp climb up and then the reward from the top of the panorama of the Lea Valley stretching out ahead of you. One to return to for sure.  

Then today a nice 4 mile loop out at Norton Mandeville - starting of course with the train, rather more graffitied than the last time we saw it sadly, and with more of the interior pulled out too. It is still entirely baffling why someone would go to the trouble of buying the thing, and having it hauled to it’s current position, and then just leave it to rot. 

Underlining that spring is very definitely now with us is the fact that the oil seed rape is bursting into its full yellow glory - and THAT in turn means I’ve been sneezing for the rest of the evening, ho hum! 

For various reasons all our walks this weekend have been relatively short but also all really nice - we’ve deliberately still stayed fairly close to home, it’s nice exploring areas that we’ve been unable to visit for a while, apart from anything else, and we do after all have plenty of further afield exploring planned for the not too distant future, too! 


Saturday 3 April 2021

First taste of freedom...!

Monday 29th March saw the much awaited first significant easing of Lockdown in England, with the “Stay Home” rule being dropped, and recreational travel allowed once more. As always, word of mouth reporting and “he said/she said” rhetoric has caused some confusion, with individuals claiming that there is still a rule in place that people must stay local and that this is not due to change until early April. In fact the government website makes it clear that further to Monday there is no further easing of travel restrictions to be made - the only further significant change of this type being the ruling that you can stay away from home with your household from 12th April - something we are planning to make good use of, but more on that another time! 

“The Jurors” artwork - Runnymede

The rule change meant that Wednesday saw me able to head down to Runnymede in Surrey. The Red Arrows were making a flypast over the Air Forces Memorial to commemorate the Centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force and I decided that the National Trust parkland down there would be nice to combine a bit of a walk and an explore of an area I’d not visited in years, with a sighting of my favourite little red jets! The weather sadly wasn’t the best, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable few hours wandering round, looking at artworks and memorials, climbing hills and finally getting a quick look at the jets as they roared overhead. 

Thursday was another trip out - this time my first visit to a Scampton in almost 6 months. Thinking about it, I reckon this is my longest gap between visits since February 2014! The weather, again, didn’t quite play ball, although the third flying slot in the afternoon did finally deliver a snippet of blue sky here and there... 

“Flat heart” - spot the 3 jets! fully flat and two at least part rolling displays though, and frankly I was just delighted to be out in the open (and it must be said, quite cold!) air, to see Claire for the first time in an age, and actually get some quality time with my camera, too! 

And of course, this view just NEVER gets old! I’m trying to work on some new techniques for shooting the individual jets like this - but it will require a bit more time to really work on I think - hopefully might lead to some different perspectives from the shots I have got previously once I’ve spent some time working through angles and methods though!

It feels so nice just to be back to actively planning things again - after a full year and more of having been reluctant to really plan much because of the near certainty of disappointment when cancellations happen, starting to get some dates in the diary again feels great!