Monday, 15 December 2014

I Like Chrimbo and I Cannot Lie

Thank you very much Mark and Pru for commenting on the last blog. Yes it's lovely to be back, although I am predictably still too busy to be keeping up to date with things properly.

We've done  pretty well on paying off the Banker.
... not as well as we'd hoped, but we should be good to - gulp - take on the next scary phase.

Next year, we have to properly spank that banker!

Not a great start, as a generous present to us - a car - has actually meant we now have extra transport costs to consider. We've coped perfectly well without a car for the last three years. So, why do we now have one? Well, it was an offer we couldn't refuse.

 Not in a bad way, though... thank you in-laws! It does resolve a few travelling conundrums for next year, and we are determined only to use it for essential journeys. Not commuting, not shopping.

We are lucky chickens, really.

Just as well, as OH has busted his Chrimbo present budget for me. This cannot happen next year! It's proper wishlist abuse.

We finally got the tree up this weekend. I was almost tempted to suggest we put tinsel round the water-butt, as that's what we had stuck in the lounge. now, I like big butts and I cannot lie, so I will let you know I was very happy that the butt also got installed outside this weekend.

For Christmas jumper day, I wore my chazza-shop-bought jumper with tartan deer appliqué. Not really a Christmas jumper as such, but I made it myself and can wear it other times too.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Where Have I Been and Where's All My Stuff?

Hello everyone, I am back, but like Renee Zellweger I look a bit different.

Still very lovely, just not Bridget Jones anymore.
 But Renee at least still has a human face. I have had my head replaced by a carrot! I grew it myself. :-)

I decided to go through the process of nonnymizing my blog. Now, you probably know who I am anyway, and I don't mind about that. But I have a side to me that is not about knitting, yoghurt or even knitting yoghurt, and I would really like to do things with that that me going on about the price of fish may detract from. At the same time, I would also like to happily chirrup on  about things I've made from bits of tat, my love of homemade bread, the tea mountain that is my kitchen cupboard and my need to save lots and lots of money...

The two things go hand in hand as far as I'm concerned. I have a dream!

And that dream is going to make me all serious and business-like on my other site and I need a space both to kick back and to count my grubby pennies from the jar with my cold-numbed fingers in my fingerless gloves.

Serious, moi?

Afraid so, fellow bloggers and blog-readers...

This is the place where I will focus on building my dream. The next few years are going to need serious financial investment, as we repay our existing debts, do up the house, then try to secure the life we want. A lot of slog, a lot of creative thinking.

These are my goals for 2015 and beyond:

  • Build up my creative freelance work.
  • Try podcasting
  • Learn to sew!!!!
  • Run more
  • Afford a short break this year, as well as travel for work interests
  • Make loan/mortgage overpayments
  • Begin major house repairs
  • 5 years' time - be doing what really I want to do full time.

The two months I've had away from the blog have made me realise that it really was a useful tool for me. My old posts will re-appear gradually and new ones will arrive too. I hope to see you along on the journey!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Cost of Public Transport

James Cook of VoucherCloud has sent me another interesting infographic.

I do a lot of travel by train, especially for jobs 2 and 3, and though the figures below look like you can make amazing savings, I need more tricks than this because:

a) I may need to wait until payday to fund the trip.
b) Notice of when you need to travel is sometimes a luxury too.
c) I may not have the option to travel at the cheapest times of day (this is why I've never managed to use Megabus).
d) You may find super-off peak tickets are cheaper anyway!

Despite many restrictions to a recent journey to the West Mids, I managed to save money anyway by splitting my ticket and using the tram instead of the train for one leg of my journey.

Alternative to Northampton to Wolverhampton off-peak - £25.90
Northampton to Birmingham Stations off-peak - £18.30
Birmingham to Wolverhampton super off-peak £2.30
Wolverhampton to Birmingham plus bus £3.10
Total: £23.70

And if you wanted to go by train for that return from Wolverhampton, Virgin do a cheaper ticket for just £3.40. Painlessly saving £1.90 instead of £2.20 for a slightly longer journey. You need to weigh up the pros and cons.

So, before we get into the infographic, here are my tips on getting the most out of frequent non-commuter train travel.

1. Sure, check what the advance prices are. You have to stick to your travel times with those, though.
2. Check if National Express  can do the trip at a reasonable price, journey duration and travelling time.
3. Check Megabus, but don't expect much. I know a performer who always travels by Megabus to save money, but he's happy to wait four hours in a bus station after a gig and I'm not.
4. Check if Amazon Voucher deals have one of those amazing sales where you can spend £5 to get £10 off.
5. London Midland do Great Escapes every now and then. Can that help at all?
6. See if you can get it cheaper through Tickety Split.
7. Link your Nectar Card to as many sites as possible such as First Hull, East Midlands etc.
8. Use a cashback site to book through such as Quidco. You can't use separate voucher codes with that, but you can collect Nectar points.
9. Travelling off-peak in the South East. A Network Railcard gets you 1/3 off travel, and you can use that solo or with another traveller too.
10. Two Together can be used anywhere off-peak, advanced  and  anytime and also save 1/3. They also send you lots of deals. I've just got 4 months of Gourmet Society membership for £1 through them. Paid for itself more than once over on its first outing with me. Buy online though, it's cheaper.
11. Unless you have a voucher code, the Trainline can't save you any more money than anywhere else, and they charge a booking fee. No need!
12. Remember plus bus, save on taxis. Check Traveline to see what services you can get from a station on the way.

Oh and always take a drink with you!
(and nibbles :))

Train Fares - How Much Can we Save by Booking in Advance? - An infographic by the team at vouchercloud

Embed Train Fares - How Much Can we Save by Booking in Advance? on Your Site: Copy and Paste the Code Below

Monday, 3 June 2013

Mobile Phone Stuff

This weekend I took my replacement phone back to the shop. I'd not used it at all, but I had found out that my phone was covered for loss on my bank account benefits. Luckily, the shop could do this for me, as I've got ages left on my original contract.

I bank with Lloyds TSB, and shortly before my honeymoon, I switched up to a Silver account, as this was the cheapest way of securing travel insurance for OH & myself... I had intended to cancel after my travels were over, but I hadn't quite got round to it.Good job!

I had thought my phone wouldn't be covered because I hadn't registered the details. Turns out registering speeds things up, but I'm still okay to make a claim. I'm just awaiting the final approval. Let's not count chickens...

That said, I've had brilliant help from the bank, my retailer (Phones4U), and my network provider (Orange), who have all given me excellent advice on claiming and securing data for the future.

So - passing on what I have learned this week.

Are You Insured?

You may not need to take out separate insurance. Check your house insurance or any benefits that come with your bank to see if you are covered. Your policy may specify restrictions on coverage or insist you register your phone details before allowing you to make a claim. If you do want to take out specialist insurance, make sure it really does specialise in the kind of things that you want covered. Some insurers won't cover loss, and will only cover theft if that theft involves threat to life or violence. So, if you feel yourself getting pickpocketed, and turn round only to see the perpetrator melt into the crowd, you may not be covered!

Some insurers insist on a crime number from the police - even if your mobile is merely lost! Talk about wasting police time...

You may find they don't insist if you have taken all necessary steps to restrict  the use of the phone - that's making sure the sim is cancelled with the network provider, and your phone blacklisted. You can doubly assure that your property can't be resold easily by registering your product details on Good for other stuff too (laptops, bikes etc), not just mobiles! The phone can be registered retrospective of loss as well, so just make sure you make full use of your man drawer and keep hold of the box! Why? Because that's where you'll find your IEMI number - that's your phone's unique identifier, that is - not your screensaver of a sad-looking cat.

Back-up, Back-up, Say What You Gonna Do Now?

I lost the videos of OH swimming with dolphins because I didn't back them up. Technicaly, i backed up a few of the photos from our honeymoon because I posted them on Facebook.

So, my retailer recommended I just Dropbox everything whenever I get onto a secure, free at point of useWifi connection. Makes sense...

She also mentioned Skype, for free face to face conversations instead of expensive video calls, Viber - which lets you call and text for free internationally, and Whatsapp, which is a free cross-platform messaging app.

So that's my advice... and it was recycled, too.

I've done well to type all that, covered in glue as I am. I am becoming card-making queen. I have to go to a 50th birthday tomorrow, so have been making a card that says 'Fabulous' in large, friendly pink letters, with girly acoutrements made from foam and sparkle stickers. I made one for a wedding last week, too! I'm hoping the recipients like them as much as I liked making them.

I will have to do the weekend writeup another time, I'm afraid. Lots to say... but my eyes are drooping.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Dancing at Lughnasa

Last night we went to see Brian Friel's 1990 play, Dancing at Lughnasa at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.
In 1987, Brian Friel was walking in London with fellow playwright Tom Kilroy and they noticed some people sleeping rough. They were speculating about what the lives of the people must have been like before they ended up on the street, and Friel remarked that he had two maiden aunts who had ended up as vagrants in London - Kilroy suggested there would be a story in this. What resulted was Dancing at Lughnasa.
This play is the story of the five Mundy sisters, who live together in rural Donegal. All of them just past the prime of their youth, all unmarried, and their parents dead. There's Kate, a pious school teacher; Maggie, who loves to joke and riddle, and smoke her Woodbines; Agnes, who cooks for everyone and is the fastest knitter in Ballybeg, and who, along with Rose makes 'glove money' by selling what she makes. Rose is a child-woman, seemingly learning disabled, and at risk of licentious behaviour if not kept in check by her sisters... and lastly, there's Christina, who despite being unmarried has a seven-year old boy by a man she still loves, but is too worldy wise to ever trust completely. The story is narrated by the boy, now grown up, and he speaks as he remembers, though the boy he was is invisible on the stage.
The Lughnasa is a pagan festival of late summer, going into the harvest time, and the boy, Michael Evans, remembers that summer of 1936 with bittersweet memories of his aunts laughing and dancing to their radio, but also their sadness. Things turn sour as his uncle, Father Jack, returns from Africa in disgrace for having 'turned native', and this begins a chain of events that turn the sisters' lives upside down.
The Mundy sisters dance like crazy

The plot may seem uncomplicated, but this is a play that focuses on the characters, which are whole and real and you are completely emotionally involved in what happens to them. The style of narration adds layers of depth and understanding; empathy and alienation effects pulling your emotions this way and that. The conflicts between the sisters' characters are beautifully subtle, requiring excellent performances, which the women actors all provide. In particular, I loved Caroline Lennon's Maggie, and Sarah Corbett as Rose - they were great characters. Father Jack didn't seem to share his sisters' Irish accents, which puzzled me, but perhaps that was the effect of spending a few years in Africa?  All in all, though, this was a superb production.
Top Date Night?

Absolutely! And dinner was also very tasty, and we had a lovely drink afterwards too.

How Frugal?

Still in 'could do better' territory. Let's see how we did:

1. Cheap tickets. Pretty good here, tickets were again less than half the cheapest price for us with special preview arrangements. Win!
2. Taking bottled water/pop. Fail... so we bought pre-theatre drinks and interval drinks too.
3. Walking to the venue - and back! Win! No cost here.
4. Choose an awkward mid-run weeknight so not tempted to follow the cast back to the pub for post-gig drinks. Fail - a massive one... OH bumped into an old work colleague at the theatre and hastily arranged a potential meet up in the Wig and Pen after the show. The fella didn't turn up, so we needn't have gone in. But we did, and OH went all goggle-eyed at the sweetie-like selection of whiskies on offer, and ordered one that cost £7.50! (:-0)
5. Either have a slow-cooker meal ready for after the show. Or have just one post-gig drink, maybe. A bit of a fail... we realised we couldn't wait that long to eat, or the rest of the audience would have been shushing our stomachs! So we had our evening meal at The Cordwainer - 2 meals for £6.29. OH had steak and kidney pudding with chips, peas and gravy, and I had chilli con carne with rice, tortilla chips and sour cream. Filling and very nice. With that real ale and cider was £2.15 a pint, so that was a bargain, but other drinks throughout the night came to a lot more!

Meal + a drink + theatre had the potential to cost as little as £21 for the pair of us. We clearly persuade each other to transgress. Looking at the positives, we could have spent more and didn't have to and had a lovely time. However... we can't afford this. Even as a bargain. And I'm learning of other 'can't refuse' social occasions that we also can't afford and I don't know what to do. The answer is to say, sorry we can't go... but I fear it won't be easy. I fear causing upset. But something must be done.

Oh dear...

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Beautiful Delapre and a Minor Crisis

What a gorgeous Bank Holiday Weekend that was - I hope you had fantastic weather wherever you are.

I missed quite a lot of the weekend due to travelling home on the 'red-eye' and trying to sort out my sleep patterns on Saturday. It didn't work - I'm still knackered. But Sunday was going to be all about me and my new hubby, spending time together in the UK - at last!

This blog was going to be full of great pictures I took of one of the best weekends I have ever shared with OH. Instead, I'm going to have to borrow once again.

Boots on, we walked to the abbey in plenty of time for our 3pm tour.

Delapre is a Grade 2 listed building, dating from Tudor times saved from the bulldozers by Joan Wake and converted into a records office in the sixties and seventies. It is a beautiful work of decayed - but recovering - splendour, in need of a cash injection to bring it up to the state of what you might expect a tourist attraction to be. At the moment, just a small amount of renovation work is possible, and the building is partially occupied by tenants who pay a peppercorn rent to help prevent vandalism. Some of the rooms cannot be accessed for reasons of health and safety, and other rooms are full of storage clutter, but beneath the dust and grime is a really beautiful building.

A paper ceiling rose in the salon, bearing the Bouverie coat of arms and motto: my country is dear to me, but liberty more precious. Here is the motto on a stained glass window on the north-facing stairs:

28dayslater blog has pictures of some of the oldest parts of the house. Here, the cloister candle crevices, dating from when the building was a nunnery. I don't know how old these are but the nunnery was built in 1145.

...and a Tudor doorway:

In the small beer cellar, a window was once a doorway that probably led into the chapel of the nunnery where the body of Queen Eleanor was laid to rest overnight en route to London. King Edward 1, who had loved her dearly, erected a cross at every stopping point for the funeral cortege, and Northampton's is one of just 3 remaining in the country from the original 12; although ours does not have a top anymore.

We learned quite a bit that was new to us, had an excellent time, and it was all free. Still, by showing potential funders that there's a potential audience for this kind of local tourism, the Friends of Delapre Abbey hope to show potential investors that it's worth investing in - so just by going along, we were helping out, which is nice to know.

After the tour, OH and I spread out our picnic blanket on the South Lawn, and spent some time watching horses trek along the bridle path in the ha ha, as swifts flitted overhead. I had brought along a picnic of provencal vegetable pasties, with crudités and tomato salsa - all homemade by me that morning. For pud, I made 'mock apricot tarts' - using up some of the carrot jam from Iran I bought from a deli on Wellingborough road last year. Very yummy! All was washed down with dandelion and burdock. Very 1940s! Sort of...

We then strolled through the beautiful gardens and woodland, down to the lake, where we spent some time watching waterskiers (and kneeboarders), and cooing over the cute goslings and ducklings over the other end, away from the noisy boats. I had some great pictures. *Sigh*

We ambled home at a leisurely pace, through Beckets Park, where I took a picture of Thomas á Becket's Well.

...and alas, that was the last time I saw my phone.

We were nearly home, walking through yet another park, this time The Racecourse, when some friends enjoying the sunshine invited us to join them, and we stayed chatting for ages, then had a curry from the cheap balti all the students go to (yes, should have gone home then), but got home still fairly early, and I fell asleep on the sofa. It wasn't until later I realised my phone was gone. We searched all the way up to to Becket's Park by torchlight, to no avail.

Alas, I had no insurance (EDIT: silver lining - I find I'm actually covered by my bank account. Cool beans! Let's see how things go...), and worse, had not got round to backing up the videos I took on honeymoon of OH swimming with dolphins (Definitely lost these). Whether it got pickpocketed or just lost, I had to accept I would probably not see it again, so it got reported, the SIM blocked and the phone blacklisted.

I've had a short, sharp shock into becoming more aware of phone/data security and preservation, and may blog my findings another time. But, what I have now got is an additional expense, as I had to make a decision about how to best replace my lost phone. I considered early upgrade and second hand with a replacement SIM (very expensive/merely expensive lump sum replacement funds involved). In the end I decided to run a cheap parallel contract, which will cost me an additional £17 for 3 months, reduce to an additional £12 for 15 months after that, and then go right down to £17 only for the rest of the new contract. Further research shows me I may have been able to haggle more data for that price, but I'm happy with the results... I would have been happier had we found my phone, but never mind.

I will still try the police again in a couple of days to see if my phone has been handed in. It's still worth doing.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Cool Thing From USA

I'm back from my travels, having caught an overnight flight, landing at 10 this morning. I'm very spaced and woozy and have had to have a bit of a kip this afternoon, but I've made myself get up and about, or I'll ruin my whole weekend with crap sleeping patterns.

I did manage to get out one of the nights while I was in New Jersey, and went to a sports bar where I got to order a burger 'medium rare' - I thought it would be lush, but it was very so-so. I have to say, not a patch on our local Buddies diner-style restaurants here in Northampton!

If I had a few more days in New Jersey, I would have liked to go visit the newly opened boardwalks down on the shore. Of course, I'm a huge fan of a certain TV show set on the Jersey shoreline... nope, not Jersey Shores - my IQ is in triple, not single figures, thank you. I meant this sweet bit of moonshine:

 New Jersey was of course hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy last year. I've heard stories about the storm surge being so huge that trains got derailed and picked up by the water, to be deposited on the highway half a mile away. The media is showing the face of optimism, as coastal businesses hope to get NJ families to celebrate Memorial weekend locally, and tourists to visit the shores to spend a bit of much needed cash.

I'm also a bit sad I missed the cicadas. When I have said I wanted to see them, people think I'm mad. But they are just coming out now around the East Coast, and they won't be seen again for another seventeen years. I won't put any pictures in case anyone gets freaked out by bugs, but they are weird.

So, not too many photos to show you. I was intrigued by the mystery of grown-over buildings on a road featuring hotels and offices that isn't on some sat navs, it's so new.

I was also a bit shocked to learn I've gained about 4 pounds this week, despite eating mainly Lean Cuisines. Mind, I suppose breakfasts like this don't help...
I only had giant waffles the one day - honest!
And despite not being able to travel to New York this time, my colleagues mad sure I came away with a souvenir.
Now, you might not guess what that is at first look, but it's a model of the Chrysler Building and it's very, very, very cool.

Behold - my very first thing made using a 3D printer! My colleague made it just for me.

It's extremely light, and you can see how the printer has applied the layers of plastic, printing round and round, like you might crochet something, which is quite apt for a home-crafted object!

So, that's my cool thing.