Wednesday, 17 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, 1 September 2014

The Post-Birthday Post

Hello readers. This is Frugalwench from the future.

I wouldn't bother going there, if I were you. It's horrible. It's a bit like Warhammer:

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war the mournful poking of belly flab. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter wondering why you ate all that, and the laughter of thirsting cider gods.

I've been really pleased with how we managed the grocery budget last month and coped with my birthday and a huge convention. But it seems the battlefield is strewn with regret as I am distinctly bigger than I was before all that. I used to be a be-plaited beardy Gotrex of a woman. Now I have a touch of Ork about me. Or Orc, as Tolkien would have spelled it. Except orcs/orks probably never felt a shimmer of horror as they waved coo-ey at Saruman and started the perpetual motion-effect of a pendulous bingo-wing.

Bludgeoning instruments down for a full house.
Sauron's eye... we don't speak about Sauron's eye.
All the ates. Me ate 'em.

The thing about Orcs is that they are always hungry, but generally they don't let it affect their figure. Mind, they probably get enough of a workout, what with all the stomping and marching about they do. And the sentient creatures they gobble, alive and wriggling, probably don't have all the trans-fats and nasties of, say, cake.

If I am to have a future that is less grim, I need to do something about it. Somewhere, deep within all this corruption, there is a beautiful elf. A very, very short one. I want to be that elf! At least because there aren't any issues regarding the spelling.

I'm not sure acquiring a pair of pointy ears will help...

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Birthday Post

Hello everyone, and happy birthday to me.

I've been having a lovely relaxed day, reading stories, eating cake... my new purple trews (Cancer Research, £4.25, Per Una!!) were lovely and comfy and now feel a wee bit snug. I've run out of cake now though. Oh, hang on... no I haven't. Huzzah!

I've had some really lovely presents. Most practical are the new purple DMs bought for me by OH. My old tartan ones are getting recycled into flowerpots.

It's not been a terribly frugal weekend. I know, I've let the sisterhood down! But I don't care.

I had a Taste card on trial, and that came in very useful. OH took me for a gorgeous meal at a hotel near us, and all the food was 50% off.

The weather is all crappy and rainy at the moment, but while the sun was shining, I went swimming, and I cycled all the way to Spratton. This was where the Women's Tour did their Queen of the Mountains stage on their second leg through Northamptonshire, so very much a challenge. I coped with the first big hill but not the second... I had to get off and push the last bit. But what a beautiful village to end up in! I took a breather at B23 cafe, which is part of the King's Head pub.

My annoying head music that I regale to anyone listening as I zoom past is "Let it Go" from Frozen. Hey, it helps me.

Other Chazza shop bargains I have grabbed this week - 10p each, Robert Rankin's The Sprouts of Wrath and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Classic!

Currently reading a library-sourced book, the most beautiful prose of fellow local author Judith Allnat: A Mile of River. It's a very crisp debut.

Some readers will have noticed there is a gap in time where a convention happened... I intend to write about that on my website very shortly. Yes, I also brought free books back from that one too...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

My First Sky Ride

Move over Wiggo... I've joined Team Sky!

Actually I have merely joined a social cycling group, organised by Sky and British Cycling. Called SkyRide, it's a wonderful motivator. There are women-only rides called Breeze, or there are mixed group rides. There are rides suitable for all levels, from Steady to Challenging.

Actually, my Steady ride was a pretty challenging one. This is because:
  • I'm rubbish
  • I hate downhills
  • I don't like bleeding
  • I've got no sense of direction
  • I can't balance
  • What are gears?
  • I live a long way from places that cyclists normally drive to first.
But I was awesome, because I rode 7 miles to Pitsford Reservoir, did the 5-mile route, rode back, didn't fall off. AND THERE WAS THUNDER AND LIGHTNING! Also, I talked to men driving a steam train who pointed out that I was racing their train AND FLIPPING WELL BEATING IT!! (Yes, they were wearing those natty red neckerchiefs. Proper train drivers!)

I had a wobbly moment when I got cocky and tried to drink and ride at the same time. I nearly did a Froome and crash into someone - at a bus stop. But 19 miles isn't shabby at all.

Plus I found an almost whole loom band, got a free hi-vis jacket, and didn't die.

Awesome view

Not my puncture.
I flippin' well deserve this cake!!!!!!
If you like cycling, this is recommended. The people are nice, they showed me how to brake on gravel properly and fix my sticky cogs. Sky Ride is free, too.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Improv, Caterpillars and Frogspawn Jelly

My first attempts at trying to be Felicity Kendall have hit a wall of fail...

Felicity is disappointed with me.
I've been harvesting salad and strawberries from my garden, and gazing with admiration at the yellow blooms on my courgettes, the beanstalks slowly winding their way round the canes, and the leafy promise of my cabbages. Not hugely impressive, but it was a good start.

Then, woe is me - my rocket got a load of flea beetles. They're not even in my gardening books, what the flip do I do with them? To top that, my cabbages are more shrunken and lacy than Beyonce's latest skimpy stage outfit after some sneaky butterflies managed to get under my nets. And an unknown something has been nibbling at my mizuna. I think it was one of these...

Be More Rabbit.
Oh well... I think we can still get a stir fry out of the pre-nibbled cabbages - a small one. Just got to check extra-carefully for the sneaky green caterpillars - they're not as easy to spot as the stripy, spiky ones.

This week I've not done too much in the garden, besides flinging caterpillars to almost certain bird-related death beneath the sycamore tree. Instead, I had a rather cultural weekend. On Friday, I went to see "A Shoemaker Goes to War" at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. I learned that the famous Lord Kitchener poster was designed by a Northampton artist - Arthur Leete.

There was a rotating display of poetry by ordinary Tommies that reminded me somewhat of Baldrick's "The Guns of War." Those poor men, trying to find something to make them smile amidst the mud, lice and gore produced these personal writings full of silliness, licentiousness and humour, with bawdy, cheeky language and crude accompanying sketches.  It seems almost unfathomable that the First World War began a whole century ago. They may have been born Victorians, but they still did lad jokes.

It's a good display, so do go and see the exhibition. It's still our museum, even though they've lost their accreditation due to selling off the Egyptian statue - which you may have read about in the news. Some people think they will have made enough from that sale for the accreditation not to matter for the next few years, but that's not the case at all. Selling the statue was all in all, not a good idea, but it's not the fault of the staff there. The museum is still an asset, and the rest of the artifacts must be defended. The Save Our Sekhema Action Group inform us here of why this sets a dangerous precedent and why it's such a bad thing to have happened to the museum.

Also this weekend, I spoke to artist Noah Rose about his forthcoming project in Northampton, Changing Tracks. I am looking forward to learning more about this interesting pan-European public art installation as it develops!

I went to my friend Tom Young's improv night - The Same Faces at NN Cafe and they were just the ticket - extremely sharp and funny.

On Saturday I got to perform myself at the NN Festival, where I kicked off poetry hour along with fellow bards Ruth Harvey Gasson and Peter James Norman, and Bardic founder and stalwart, Justin Thyme. The chilled picnic vibe was occasionally threatened by rain and thunder, but that made for an intimate gig as a load of festival goers dragged bales of straw into the marquee to hear Justin and Peter. It was lovely, and all the acts seemed to go down well. I also  got to hear sets from Leila Jane (gorgeous voice) and the fabulous Retro Spankees.
Spanking good.

My picnic for the occasion was rather less successful... I made some lovely cheese, leek and cumin muffins and a pasta salad with some lemon and berry jellies for dessert. I got the idea from the Co-op magazine, which had the idea of presenting the jellies in pretty glass jars. Unfortunately, the lids seemed to loosen en route, and so I had a sports bag full of lemon jelly. We tried to eat it anyway, after I'd slopped it back into the jars. "Is that frogspawn?" asked a passerby.

Glorious muffins! Just look at the muffins... ignore the frogspawn.

We made a valiant effort, braving the barely set sweet as the only wasp in the field decided he'd like to hang round us. Stupid wasp... it was low sugar jelly.

Anyway, that was all free and lovely... couldn't make it back for day two as I had a lot of work on.

It's been a good week for vouchers, as I made the most of the ones for Morrisons last week, and a couple in the Metro for Subway, Gu and the magazines GQ and Glamour, which I got for £1 each. This was particularly good value as the magazines came with a free razor and moisturiser. Voucher-badgers, look out for the evil Murdoch rag again tomorrow, which apparently has the ones in for free fruit in again. And melons.

Currently babysitting... I've missed Bake-Off as we had to read Asterix and the Olympics. Bloomin' eck... that's more racist than I remembered! Skipped a bit there...

My brother said I could have a glass of fruity home brew cider as a treat. It's lush. Well done, Bro!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

A little Eeyore cloud has been following us donkeys Chez Wench around for a short while, so we are doing our best to count our blessings and do some cloudbusting - yeah, like Kate Bush.

One of the best weapons to deploy for this purpose is exercise. I have made an effort this week to do a bit of this, and do you know, it's working.

On Monday, I went for a 3km run and logged it on Strava. I decided to try a different park to the one I normally go running in, and it was fantastic: proper hills and undulating ground, a real challenge. Plus I discovered a little corner of the park led to the local nature reserve - how come I did not know this?

Also on Monday, my trial Taste card arrived (follow the link to get yours - 50% or 241 deals on restaurant meals). I started thinking about where I could use it, and we have booked a birthday meal at a lovely hotel in the countryside that we never knew existed before. How do we know it's lovely? Well, we decided to cycle there on Tuesday! Again, I logged the ride on Strava on the way there, so I know I cycled 13km that night. On the way there, we saw how the yellow broom contrasted beautifully with the purple thistle flowers at the side of the cycle path. On the way back, we came home via the N6 in the dark and it was pretty spooky - it's got massively overgrown since I walked down there last weekend. It was as if the broom, thistles and nettles were reaching out to grab me. Eek! Not so pretty now...

Last night, I suggested a lovely evening walk to OH and I showed him how I had found the entrance to the nature reserve so near to us. We walked through fields with hundreds of rabbits and took a circular route back through the village, admiring the pretty cottages and stopping off at the pocket garden of Kingsthorpe church, a wild, shadowy lovely place with tumbledown Victorian gravestones. OH showed me the Kings Well, a proper spring. The villagers have apparently long boasted that the spring water is purer than the stuff pumped up by the waterboard. There is a plaque telling us all this, which then advises the public not to actually drink it... well, guess who did anyway. A swift half at King William IV convinced us we  have found our new local. What a lovely evening!

Feeling pretty proud of OH who in a moment of true frugal insight decided not to buy cinema tickets to see Monty Python last weekend, saving us £37. He regretted it slightly as we watched the show live on TV and there were a lot of censored bits... but we have recorded the uncensored version shown on Tuesday. Some of the show reviews have been cruel and disparaging. Some people are idiots... As a teenager, I was perfectly happy to listen to the Monty Python album round my friend's house again and again and again, singing along to "Eric the Half a Bee." What did they expect the fellas to do? Of course it was a nostalgia trip, and I enjoyed it. And I've been walking home from the bus station singing "The Philosophers' Song" to myself all this week. And isn't Carol Cleveland just awesome!
It's been a bit of an arty week round work as there has been IF, MK Fringe and Festival of Nations going on in Milton Keynes.

Twice this week there have been some great and peculiar installations in front of the bus station.

And today the Festival of Nations was on. We missed quite a lot as the big stage and food stalls were all in Arts Central above the train station, but I did get to see a bit of Bollywood glamour with dances from the MK Hindu Association.

 And there was a lady giving away free bags of croissants. Bonus!

I've been making gooseberry jam all night, too (ah, it was a b*gger to set), so I've got something to go with them tomorrow. Sweet!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Allotmenting For Emos

It has been a long, hot, sticky, stormy week,  yet I am still wondering why it's so late already and why I haven't managed to do all the things I wanted to this weekend.

A lot of people are doing lists of positive stuff lately.  I am pretty positive most of the time, but for some reason that's been a challenge these past few weeks. Well, I do like a challenge.

Last Friday was my dad's birthday.  I clubbed together with my siblings to get him a pressie and we all headed over to the Black Country to spend time together. I made him a card featuring an embossed foil carp swimming through green fronds and proudly wrote Happy 70th on it. Only this seemed to amuse my dad, and he giggled about me having gone back in time.  I thought he was teasing me for being a science-fiction nerd, but apparently not.  Did I not remember the celebrations from last year?
 Erm, no... . What not the restaurant? No.  Not the massive cake? No… and I still can't.  Even if I'd got massively drunk, I should surely remember something!  But no... no recollection at all. Either my family is playing a massive joke on me or I have been making far too many series of Quantum Leap. Oh boy.

Positive thinking regarding the above: a missing memory surely leaves more space for creative thinking.  "What a great 70th birthday you had, Dad. I had no idea you  were an old friend of Paul McGann and Richard E Grant,  but it was so nice of them to turn up to your party and bring the finest wines available to humanity. And cake!"

Also last week, I went to my writers’ group where I had to stand in for OH who had submitted a story for feedback, but had been called to work so couldn’t go. The irony is, I haven't written anything myself besides this blog for weeks. A few jokes about shopping that I've got no idea what to do with. I suppose I've used my creative time to make cheese and yoghurt, but it's not the same...

Anyway, it was great seeing my writing group chums. There were a few people missing, and we got hounded out of the pub by Phil Collins. Not literally... they were just playing "Another Day in Paradise" at a level to make you wish you couldn't hear it even more than you already did. So we sat in the beer garden, enjoyed the sunshine, and discussed screaming homophones, as you do.

Positive thinking: okay, so I've been depressed and knackered and generally crap, but going to writing group at least gives me the push towards impetus that I need to get on with stuff. Almost there...

It's a fantastic group; we've had loads of individual successes and I really relish the support I get from my friends. Plus, for now at least, we get to meet in the beautiful Saxon village of Earls Barton, or as I like to think of it, the set of gentle Nick Frost comedy, Kinky Boots.


 Perhaps it's a metaphor, but gooseberry bushes have some blooming big thorns. I have been very lucky this week in that my bro invited me to his allotment to help diminish his enormous glut of gooseberries. Ably assisted by a five-year old, we tackled the bush with gusto and now I have about 5lbs of gooseberries and an awful lot of scratches down my arms. I think it's the sort of pain that booze might heal...

*searches for recipes for gooseberry wine*

Positive thinking: I have berries, and the suntan cancels out the emo arms.