Fed up with your December birthday? Then change it

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My birthday cards don’t have to compete with Christmas cards anymore

For years my Christmas-time birthday was a huge disappointment.  As a child it was over-shadowed by the seasonal festivities and couldn’t help but be just another strain on the family finances at the most expensive time of the year.  Aunts and uncles would buy me ‘joint’ gifts for birthday and Christmas, assuring me they had spent extra.  As every December-birthday person knows, even if they had spent more, nothing beats having two specific gifts for birthday and Christmas and that this isn’t something that June-birthday children have to contend with.  As a child I never had a party on my actual birthday, it was too near the festivities, no one had time and who wants to eat birthday cake at Christmas.  As an adult the lovely Mr BOTRA and my son and daughter-in-law have made a fuss of me and ensured the day was special and spending time with these three people is wonderful and should be enough … but I always wanted what everyone else had, a celebration with my friends.  On my birthday these friends were either with their family, busy at some other Christmas event or away for the festive period.  The only way to get everyone together was to celebrate outside the Christmas period, so when I was 40 I arranged the party for January.  It still took me a few years after that birthday to realise that this was the way to go and it was 2011 when I decided I wasn’t putting up with this unsatisfactory situation any longer and I moved my birthday to November.

There were friends who protested that it couldn’t be done, a few who still forget the new date, but honestly, I haven’t regretted moving my birthday to the preceding month for one minute.  Now, my birthday isn’t shoe-horned in to the Christmas festivities, my birthday cards don’t have to compete for space with the Christmas cards and my friends are available for a celebration.  It is this latter result that is the most important to me, I get to bring everyone I care about together for one celebration and that makes me happy.  It isn’t about presents and cards, for me it has always been about wanting to be with the people I love.

Over the past few years I have celebrated my birthday with friends in various ways.  We have played crazy golf, been for walks, had ‘posh’ afternoon tea, visited an art gallery and been out for meals.  At last I get to experience what other people with birthdays in any other month except December take for granted, a birthday spent with my family and friends.

And what of my birth-date?  This day still exists, of course I have to use it for paperwork and forms but really it is now just any other day.  The recollection that it is the anniversary of my birth might pass through my mind at some point during the day but it is no longer my birthday, that is the November date that I chose.  Moving my birthday was one of the best things I ever did and I am not moving it back.

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Discovering the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Lake District

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Beautiful Blackwell Arts and Crafts House above Windermere

In retirement our winter trips are being dictated by the weather forecast rather than the weekend and this freedom is liberating.  With some cold sunny weather forecast last week we baked a cake, packed some warm clothing and set off for the Lake District.  Windermere is easy to get to from Salford and we were soon soaking up the views along the lake from Orrest Head, pottered by the Windermere and seeking a cosy pub to warm up in.

In the afternoon we visited the lovely Blackwell Arts and Crafts House.  We had been here before many years ago and since then the staff and volunteers have been busy and many improvements have been made.  Built by M H Bailie Scott as a holiday home for Edward Holt, this is a beautiful example of an Arts and Crafts house that retains many of its original features that, in keeping with the movement, are both decorative and practical.  The door handles are leaf-shaped, the window catches are interesting.  There is attractive stained glass and plaster work too but just as important, the atmosphere is relaxed, rather than stuffy and visitors are encouraged to linger.

After being a holiday home the house became a school and then offices before being bought by a Trust in 1999 and it opened to the public in 2001.  The White Drawing Room has slender columns with decorative capitals, a sunny aspect over the lake and is a room where the sunlight dances around the room.

The Arts and Crafts Movement began in Britain in the 1880s and spread across Europe and America.  As the V&A writes:

‘It was a movement born of ideals. It grew out of a concern for the effects of industrialisation: on design, on traditional skills and on the lives of ordinary people. In response, it established a new set of principles for living and working. It advocated the reform of art at every level and across a broad social spectrum, and it turned the home into a work of art.’

The Arts and Crafts Movement has strong links with the Lake District.  The three founder members, William Morris, Edward Burne Jones and Phillip Webb were supported by  George Howard from Naworth Castle near Carlisle and he used William Morris’ wallpapers in many of his properties.  John Ruskin, a Lake District resident, strongly influenced the Arts and Crafts Movement.  He considered machine-made items to be dishonest and that craftmanship was linked to dignity.

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Tile detail from a fireplace at Blackwell

Ready for any emergency?

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Our ’emergency’ kit

Emergency kit is a bit of a grand name for our tupperware box full of things we keep in the campervan.  This box contains items we think might be useful when we are out walking or cycling and ’emergency kit’ is what we call it when we are checking what to stuff in the rucksacks or pannier for a walk or bike ride.  We have recently reviewed what we carry in this kit.  We like to have these small essentials in one place so that we feel ready for almost anything and can head off for the day with some confidence.

We have used items in the ’emergency kit’ [for ourselves and other people] and we have added to it when we have had an ’emergency’ and realised there is something essential missing.  One summer we ended up on a path heavy with nettles, I was wearing shorts and emerged unable to see my legs under a tapestry of nettle stings and we spent much of the rest of the day looking for a chemist in Cotswold villages to get antihistamine tablets, now we carry these.  We use the tick lasso regularly as we are often in areas where these small insects are numerous [we also keep our tick-borne encephalitis jabs up-to-date].  The plasters get used regularly for small injuries but many of the other items are there for a serious emergency, such as the foil emergency blankets and whistle.  We previously carried just one small torch but now keep our two head torches in the ’emergency kit’ as if we are returning in the dusk or dark from a walk or cycle ride these are more useful for getting us home safely.

We think we are prepared for anything but what do you think is missing?  Our kit comprises:

  • Two head torches and batteries
  • Bandages [various]
  • Wipes
  • Towelettes
  • Lifeboat matches
  • Plasters, including blister plasters
  • Paper and pencil
  • Compass
  • String and spare lace
  • Scissors [fantastic neat folding scissors actually]
  • Bite and sting relief cream and bite and sting click-away
  • Insect repellent
  • Foil emergency blankets
  • Medications – antihistamine, ibuprofen, migraine tablets, paracetamol [we change these regularly so they are not out of date]
  • Sewing kit [not sure what emergency this is really for]
  • Swiss army knife with knife and corkscrew
  • Whistle
  • Tick lasso (for removing ticks)

In addition we also ensure we carry at least one charged mobile phone as well as a map and water on any walk or bike ride that is further than a trip to the shops.

The mountain safety advice is not to bother but should we carry a distress flare?  What do you always carry with you?

 

 

 

Data roaming on ferries – don’t get caught out

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The Portuguese coast near Porto Covo

I thought using my phone for data and calls in Europe was a simple transaction nowadays.  I have a contract with a fair amount of data, calls and texts and I can use this just as I would at home in the UK.  This makes so many things easier as we travel around Europe, we can google for local veggie restaurants, check the opening times of attractions and the weather and call home and we thank the EU for this convenience on a daily basis.  But, on our recent trip to Spain and Portugal I found that on a ferry using your mobile phone gets more complicated and expensive mistakes can easily be made.

I was surprised to find I had a data signal on my mobile phone as we sailed out of Bilbao but naively assumed that connections had improved so much they could now reach out to the Bay of Biscay.  I had switched my phone on to pick up the ship’s wi-fi but as I had a data signal I decided I didn’t need to go through the rigmarole of signing in to that.  Then a text message pinged up telling me I had spent £4+ on data outside my allowance, then another text with a higher amount, then another and so on.  There was no explanation as to how I had gone over my data allowance and I spent a few frantic minutes checking my phone account to see if I could clarify what I had done but as the text messages mounted up I [sensibly] switched the phone off for the rest of the ferry journey.

I switched my phone on again as we docked in to Portsmouth.  The last text message I had received informed me I had spent £34+ on data outside my allowance.  I checked my data usage again and couldn’t see how I had spent that, my data usage was well within the gigabytes I pay for on my contract.

I rang Three, my phone operator, as Mr BOTRA drove us away from the south coast to see what this £34 additional charge was about.  The operator very efficiently informed me that with data roaming switched on [as it is quite safely all over Europe] when on a ferry or cruise ship my phone will automatically seek any connections.  When the phone can’t find a two, three or four G network it will seek out a satellite marine mobile provider via the ship; this was the first I had heard about marine mobile.  It seems these marine mobile providers are outside a normal data allowance contract and so are charged separately and those on Britanny Ferries that we were travelling on are very expensive charges [although they do warn you about these charges on their website].

It is some consolation that these data roaming charges, as this article suggests, have caught other people out as well as me, with some ending up with bills much more than the £34 I now had to pay.

Fortunately my story of ignorance has a happy ending for a frugal traveller as Three, noting that I have been a loyal customer for many years, refunded the £34 I owed for the few minutes my telephone was connected to the marine mobile satellite.  They did this without me having to ask [I was still in shock] and quickly, so Three deserve a big thank you.

Next time I will just keep my phone switched off on a ferry and relax and enjoy the view.

 

 

Spain & Portugal: What did a two months campervan trip cost?

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The river Tormes in Salamanca

We loved touring around Spain and Portugal and highly recommend it.  If you’re planning your own trip to these or many other European countries these costs might be a useful guide, although WARNING – everyone’s trip is their own and everyone’s spending is different.  We are not uber-frugal campers and anyone could do this trip cheaper [even we could if we tried] but this is our trip, it isn’t all about money and we set out to enjoy it in our own way.  So below are a few notes on our spending.

  1. Of the 66 nights we were away only seven of these were spent free-camping, the rest of the time we were on campsites [although we stayed on low-cost camperstops and ACSI sites].
  2. In Portugal we had coffee and cake in a cafe almost everyday because it is cheap enough and the cakes are fantastic [hence the €434 spent in cafes] but we are vegetarian and so had very few evening meals out in restaurants as Portugal isn’t always ready for vegetarians.
  3. We did drink wine or beer every night but we did try some very cheap [and very good] red wine [the lowest we tried was 1.89].
  4. As you can see, we paid to get in to some attractions as we travelled, budget travellers could skip these.
  5. Other spending includes an occasional washing machine, presents for loved ones at home, bike spares, some clothes and a few household replacement items.
  • Diesel – €523
  • Food [supermarkets etc] – €864
  • Cafes & restaurants – €434
  • Campsites – €931
  • Bus fares, taxis etc – €48
  • Entrance fees to attractions – €174
  • Other spending – €146
  • TOTAL SPENDING – €3,120

Interestingly, this amount is more or less the same as we would have spent had we stayed at home [and while away we’ve not been using gas, electric or water in the flat] so the only additional cost to our normal spending has been the ferry.  Portsmouth to Bilbao is an expensive route at £730 but it does take you straight to Spain and I feel that this amount represents better value when spread out over a two month trip.

We have been generous with our budget and expected higher spending than this on our trips away so our annual spending for our first year of retirement is still looking good at the moment despite additional spending following the incident.

 

Spain and Portugal campsites & overnights

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Evening light on a campsite

In the spirit of sharing for anyone who is planning their own trip to northern Spain and Portugal, during our two months trip around these two countries we stayed on some great campsites, a few indifferent ones and a few free camping places.  The full list with the low season cost and some comments are below:

Campsite name Comments Cost
Port at Portsmouth Edge of the lanes for checking in, facilities nearby open 05.00-23.30, some noise and 4 other vans  €           –
Casalarreina Aire near Haron, Spain On the edge of a small town, pleasantly situated by sports area, short walk in to Casalarreina and shops and cafes  €           –
Camping Fuente de la Treya, Soria Good hot showers, not the cleanest, main road above site so some noise, grassy and trees, okay for one night, electric €6/night  €    21.50
Camping Carion del Rio Lobos, Ucero, Spain Lots of shade under the trees, clean facilities, showers very fine spray and not quite warm enough  €    28.50
Camping El Acuedecto, Segovia, Spain On the edge of the city, marked pitches, buses to city, clean facilities & roomy showers, water not very warm, plenty of dishwashing and laundry sinks  €    26.00
Camping Gredos, Hoyos del Espino, Spain A sloping site in the pine trees, peaceful and walking & cycling in the natural park, excellent hot showers, wash up a bit grim, pitches a reasonable size  €    18.10
Camping Parque National Monfrague Malpartida de Plasencia, Spain A large site, ACSI, English spoken, some shade, uneven pitches, good hot showers, shop & bread  €    17.00
Camping Don Quijte, Salamanca, Spain Large, level and sandy pitches that are marked with hedges & have plenty of shade, good cycle route to the city and good hot showers with clean facilities, ACSI  €    17.00
Camping Sierra de la Culebra, Figueruela de Arriba, Spain A peaceful site in the countryside, some shade, sandy, facilities dated & have shower curtains but acceptable, ACSI  €    17.00
Active Lima, Entre Ambos-os-Rios, Portugal Site in pine trees, few definite pitches, facilities basic & no hot water at sinks, showers lukewarm, English spoken, ACSI  €    13.00
Parque de Campismo do Paco, Vila Praia de Ancora, Portugal In eucalypus trees & oak, no marked pitches, popular site, facilities fine, hot showers & toilet paper, only lukewarm water for wash-up, ACSI  €    11.00
Parque de Campismo de Cerdeira, Campo do Geres, Portugal A large terraced level site under trees, organised & modern facilities, shop, showers, clean but lukewarm, wash up outdoors  €    23.00
Campismo Arco Unipessoal, Arco de Baulhe, Portugal Small terraced site, 300 m from a town, facilities open, clean & showers reasonably warm, open views to hills, wifi at bar, ACSI  €    17.00
Parque de Campismo Municipio de Meda, Portugal A neatly laid out small site by the swimming pool, good English spoken at reception, toilet paper, very hot showers, fully adjustable, clean facilities, good wifi on pitch, an excellent site by the town  €    11.00
Camping Quinta das Cegonhas, near Gouveia, Portugal Terraced site with views down the hillside, good information on walks, facilities clean & showers hot, English spoken, well organised, good wifi on pitch  €    19.10
Toca da Raposa, Meruge near Oliveira do Hospital, Portugal Small site with trees for shade, friendly welcome, walks information available, clean facilities & good hot showers, wifi at bar, ACSI  €    15.00
Coimbra Aire at Parque Verde / Piscinas, Portugal Car park near the town & river, popular & busy, road noise, toilets that are open in the day  €           –
Quinta do Pomarinho, Castelo de Vide, Portugal Sandy site with some trees but limited shade, lovely views of hills, good facilities, wifi by reception, 1 1/2 hr walk to town, hot showers, lots and lots of information about walks locally  €    20.00
Camping Alentejo, Evoramonte, Portugal By a busy road, flat site, some shade, pool, clean facilities, showers only warm  €    12.00
Costa do Vizir Camping, Porto Covo, Portugal Large site with many facilities near the village, showers fine & clean, paved roads, no views but peaceful  €    17.10
Foia Autocarravana parking near Monchique at 902 m, Portugal Car park with cafe, shops & antennae at top of hill, good views, traffic late at night & early morning  €           –
Vale a Carrasqueira Camperstop, Caldas de Monchique, Portugal 14 pitch camperstop with lovely views over a wooded valley, extra €2.50 to use pool, wifi, basic clean facilities, good hot showers  €    12.50
Camping Alvor, Alvor, Portugal large site with pool, shop & motorhome service pint, busy due to ACSI reduction, hot showers & clean facilities although a bit dated  €    13.00
Algarve Motorhome Park, Silves, Portugal Large gravel aire by the road, little shade, clean & tidy, 2 showers cost 50c each  €       8.50
Parque de Campismo Municipal de Serpa, Portugal Sandy site, some slope, some trees, good hot showers & clean facilities, Intermarche & cafes near & town only 10 mins away  €    10.05
Parque de Campismo Markadia, Odivelas, Portugal Beautiful & peaceful position on the reservoir with generous pitches, clean facilities, roomy & hot showers, bread  €    19.44
Orbitur Parque Campismo de Evora, Portugal Marked pitches, facilities dated but acceptable, showers hot, 2 kms from centre, large pitches  €    14.58
Elvas car park by Aqueduct, Portugal Large slightly sloping car park, beside the stunning aqueduct & 15 mins walk from the town, popular aire  €           –
Camping Os Anjos, Campo Maior, Portugal Small terraced site with open views, clean facilities, no toilet paper, water for wash up & showers not hot enough, information on walks, 1.5 kms from the lovely town  €    17.30
Camping Cuidad de Caceres, Spain Terraced site that is popular & large, each pitch with bathroom, some road noise, shower a bit feeble but hot & nice to have space, ACSI  €    17.00
Camping Parque National Monfrague, Malpartida de Pasencia, Spain Still busy but good welcome, wifi, roomy showers with hot water & good flow, good wash-up facilities, ACSI  €    17.00
Camino de Santiago Camping, Castrojeriz, Spain Peaceful site with marked out pitches & bread by small town, showers push button for short time but hot, only 1 hot tap for wash-up, ACSI  €    17.00
Camping de Haro, Spain Large site with shady marked pitches, well organised, heating in sanitary block & good hot showers, 10 mins walk from the town, ACSI  €    19.00
Bilbao Port for Britanny Ferries Flat & busy car park after check-in with toilets available, arrive between 16.00-19.00  €           –

Ordsall Allotments: #surprisingsalford #24

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Summer crops at the allotments

There haven’t always been allotments in Ordsall and it took a long community-led campaign and lots of work and planning to get them.  For some time the Ordsall Allotment Association had members but no allotments but eventually the allotments were completed and the site was officially opened in 2014.  The allotments have transformed an area of derelict land in the centre of Ordsall in to a green oasis.  The site was formerly part of the centre of the estate and the Jubilee pub, a post office, and library were cleared as part of the redevelopment of Ordsall.  The former St Clements School site on Robert Hall Street had originally been identified for the allotments after the school closed in 2007.

The 23 allotments have now matured after three years of growing and I always stop to peer through the fence when I pass and see what is growing on the plots and admire the neat rows of sheds and vegetables.

In September the allotment members have an annual show where they showcase their produce, celebrate their achievement and compete for the best vegetables.