Since those awful photographs of the beach at Henderson Island covered in millions of pieces of plastic and the news that a dead whale was found off the coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach, reducing your use of plastic has become more news worthy and a variety of papers and magazines are giving tips on how to reduce your plastic footprint.
These tips vary from refusing drinking straws in a bar to buying a wooden toothbrush and are all valid and help the planet and got me thinking about toiletries and single-use plastic. I have been aware for some time that this is a major use of plastic in our household. While moving on to solid shampoo has been fairly pain-free, I have failed to persuade Mr BOTRA to use a bar of soap for his shaving and instead he is trialling Lush’s shaving cream which still comes in a plastic tub which they will take back for recycling. We have never used liquid soap, preferring a simple bar of soap at the bathroom sink and have now moved on to a bar of soap, rather than a plastic bottle of shower gel, in the shower.
Spurred on by the top tips, I bought bamboo toothbrushes from an Ebay store and also a wooden wash-up brush. I don’t use much in the way of cosmetics, just lip salve which Lush package in metal tins and body lotion / moisturiser. My favourite body lotion is Le Petit Marseillais olive and amande cream that comes in a metal tin. It isn’t expensive and is available in French supermarkets and I stock up on this every time we are in France.
So far so painless. Reducing our use of single-use plastic is a slow process with small steps.
Moving on to tackling our cleaning products, we were at Port Sunlight on the Wirral recently and came away, as many do, with a cardboard pack of two bars of Sunlight soap. This has proved to be a great soap for all types of cleaning, including general cleaning of work surfaces and laundry.
One of my weaknesses is mints. I can’t really contemplate a journey in our campervan without having mints on hand to suck. These have always been tic-tacs; these tiny mints are perfect for a small treat but they are packaged in a plastic box. This had to change and I began the search for suitable vegetarian replacements. In Treasure Island Sweets I found tins of Barkley’s Mints. The mints taste great, come in a handy tin, wrapped in paper, so far so good but unfortunately each tin arrived wrapped in plastic! The small steps continue.
It is now over nine weeks since ‘the incident’ and without a campervan we have been forced to try other accommodation ideas for our holidays. What this period of exile from our ‘van has done is not only reinforce our love of the campervan lifestyle it has also made me realise how much having a van is a part of me and without it the knowledge that something is missing from my life pervades everything. None of the options we have tried, youth hostels, self-catering cottage, tent and hotel, compared to the sense of freedom we get from travelling in the ‘van. These different holidays had to be booked and organised beforehand and none of them were as relaxing as being in our own campervan. Below is the types of accommodation we have tried and how I found them.
Youth Hostels – We used to do lots of youth hosteling with the YHA and I worked at Buttermere youth hostel for a summer season in the 1990s, so we gave this budget option a try for our first break. Youth Hostels have the big advantage of having a kitchen so we could have home-cooking and remain frugal. The YHA website allows you to book a series of hostels and at between £29 and £39 a night for a room for two this is a good budget option. The kitchens can get busy at meal times but they are sociable places; as we had found in the past, youth hostels are great places to meet and chat to other people. The downside of this is that you can’t find your own space and when I wanted some peace and quiet to sit comfortably chilling and reading my book there wasn’t anywhere to go. Although we had sole use of a room the bunk beds meant that they were not great for lazing around. Youth hostels are also often closed during the day time.
Self-catering cottage – This is much less of a budget option, although you can save a lot on eating out as home-cooking is still an option. We paid £370 for a luxurious cottage for five nights on the edge of the Lake District. We had our own space, could come and go as we pleased and had everything we needed to hand. This was a relaxing and enjoyable holiday that came closest to being as good as the campervan.
Camping in a tent – The weather was warm so we set off with a borrowed tent to camp in the Peak District for a couple of nights. I love being on campsites and so this holiday ticked the box for relaxing on the site watching the world go by. I was less keen on having to run to the toilets first thing in the morning and we were ill prepared with no relaxing chairs or a table. With better equipment and in good weather this is a pleasant option, costs the same as staying on a site in the ‘van and we could cook our meals, although the equipment we had was limited … but in the rain it would be dismal.
Hotel – We paid £90 for a night bed and breakfast in a comfortable hotel in the Yorkshire Dales. Of course, we have stayed in hotels before and generally agree that they are okay for a night or so but after that we yearn for home cooking. In the evening we ate at the local Indian restaurant for £40 for the two of us. For me this makes hotels feel like an expensive option that doesn’t suit us for long holidays.
After years of constant saving, practicing our own version of frugality, checking how the stash of money is growing, reviewing this against the amount we need to take early retirement and counting the days until we can give up the day jobs, how does it now feel to be spenders rather than savers? Apart from my [very] ad hoc income from travel writing and the low return on our savings, our household now has no income. We are relying completely on the money we have saved until our pensions start to roll in [the first is still three years away and it isn’t until 2024 that we will have sufficient pension income to cover our living costs]. Spending this money is what we were working towards after all and last November I wrote about looking forward to spending all the money. How does that reality feel? Having spent years living well within our income, what is it like having little income and watching our capital dwindle? Have we become spendophobics or even spendoholics?
Some people are wary of spending beyond their income in their retirement. They have become so used to living within their means, that is their income, it can be hard to adjust to spending those savings. These people do not dip in to the savings they have accumulated for that retirement and become spendophobics and don’t necessarily have the retirement they would have wanted.
Well folks that isn’t us! It seems that having that money in the bank doesn’t define us and we are not scared of spending it; retirement in our 50s is exactly what we were saving the money for. Our years of frugality have made this a habit and we still practice caution in our spending, regularly checking that we are within our budget of £27,000 for this year [although it has been a funny sort of year up to now we are well within target]. Each month we transfer our ‘spending’ money in to our bank account as if it were income and this helps us budget. Those frugal years have helped us to be careful spenders in our retirement but our outlook and plans mean that we are now spending the money on enjoying that retirement and we don’t suffer from ‘spendophobia’ [of course, we have no choice, with no pension income we have to spend our savings]. We have a plan [a spreadsheet of course] for how those savings will gradually disappear to almost zero by 2024 [the contingency money might remain if we have no emergencies and if I am honest I do sort of hope there might be a bit left as I think our budget is generous]. I am finding that watching that plan work through is as satisfying as I found seeing those savings build up. We were conscientious savers and now we have become conscientious spenders.
We have been clear about what makes us happy and what we want to do with our retirement. Much of that happiness involves travelling in our campervan. This is so much fun and gives us so much pleasure [the recent incident has really highlighted this] and we don’t intend to miss out on our dreams just to keep more money in the bank and leave our son with a big inheritance. We know that life is short and are only too aware that in twenty years time [if we are lucky enough to live that long] we might not want to travel in the same sort of way [but we might] and so we are spending the money now while we are fit and able, not hanging on to it like a comfort blanket.
Apologies for the over-use of parentheses in this post! My normal writing style will / might resume next time.
It is a fact of life [in the UK] that our walking shoes get muddy. Cleaning our walking shoes isn’t the favourite job of either of us but it helps if you have the right tools for the job. I recently needed to replace the simple suede brush we had as the bristles were wearing down. I found this Kiwi Suede and Nubuck brush in the supermarket and despite it costing more than I expected I decided to see if it was better than the brush I was replacing, as it claimed to have more and better features.
This Kiwi brush is plastic and retails at around £3. Kiwi recommend that the shorter rubber bristles are used for nubuck, the longer bristles can be used for removing soil in crevices and the shaped plastic edge can clean seams.
I found it didn’t work quite like Kiwi proposed. After walks on sticky chalk soils and the thick clay of the Yorkshire coast our shoes were heavy with mud. After each trip we left them to dry for a few days and then tackled the cleaning. The longer bristles worked the same as any suede brush and got a lot of the dried mud off the shoes, along the seams, the sides of the soul and the top. The difficult bit of cleaning walking shoes and one where I hoped this tool might help is the grip pattern on the sole. For walking shoes to provide good traction a complicated grip pattern is designed by manufacturers, with many narrow crevices that get packed full of mud that dries to almost concrete. In addition small stones lodge in these crevices and need removing. Suede brushes cannot shift this mud easily and I usually end up seeking out a twig or a metal skewer to clean out the sole. Instead I tried using the curved plastic edge of the Kiwi brush. This did tackle these areas quite effectively but after only using the tool twice for our four shoes the plastic edge is showing significant wear; Kiwi don’t claim that this is what the plastic edges are designed for but if the plastic used was tougher it would work well for cleaning the soles of our walking shoes.
As this tool will be worn out very soon I will go back to an ordinary suede brush and a metal skewer to remove the soil from the grip on the soles of our walking shoes, as I really can’t justify the expense and waste of resources involved in buying a new plastic brush every six months.
Now we are both here we are finding this retirement life pretty good. As with our pre-retirement life, we are continuing to live frugally [that is within budget], stay active, get out and engage with the world and generally enjoy our lives. We are also trying to remain relaxed and content by adopting a strategy of doing just one thing a day. So far we have slipped in to doing two things just occasionally but the policy mostly applies. Below is a list of our activities and spending on additional activities in the last week:
Day one – We attended a political meeting [free].
Day two – We bought day passes for the bus [£4.50 each] and went for a countryside walk.
Day three – We got free tickets for a play through the wonderful Show Film First and we went to the matinee because we can, walking there and back.
Day four – We walked in to Manchester to spend a book token Mr BOTRA had received for his birthday. While we were choosing books, the book shop had a fire alarm and we went for a drink while we waited for it to re-open [£3.30].
Day five – We joined a shared lunch with friends and drinks for a friend’s birthday in Manchester in the evening [two things]! [Public transport £13.20, drinks £23.60].
Day six – A guided visit to the interior of the lovely Ordsall Hall [£3 each]
Day seven – We went to see the Manchester United Reserves under 23 team play against Tottenham Hotspur. Entrance is free and the crowd of a few hundred [the capacity of Old Trafford is over 75,000] watched Manchester United win 3-2. We resisted the temptation to buy any of the over-priced refreshments.
So we spent a total of £55.10 [less than £8/day] on getting out and about this last week, this might be slightly unusual as we don’t celebrate birthdays every week [but we really enjoyed going out to the pub] and this amount is well within budget and has been so much fun. We have learnt more about our local area, met some people with shared political views, enjoyed some culture and sport and kept very active. Roll on more weeks of retirement!
I not only write travel articles for MMM I also read it from cover-to-cover. Consequently, when I read the advice from Terry Acreman regarding fitting high-pressure tyre valves to your motorhome (August 2016), I marked the page and promised to do something about it when we had time. The weeks passed by and the valves remained on the list, until we eventually had time to tackle this. I contacted Tyresave, as recommended, and purchase five high-pressure tyre valves [one for the spare] and then booked our Renault Master in to National Tyres in Manchester for the fitting. The appointed day was sunny and as Manchester city centre is just a 15 minute stroll along the canal from National Tyres we thought we would combine the valve-fitting with a leisurely coffee and a visit to a photography exhibition we wanted to see.
We hadn’t even licked the cappuccino froth from our lips when the phone rang; it was National Tyres to say they couldn’t find the wheel brace. This wasn’t surprising as it is under the bed; feeling it was too complicated to explain, Mr BOTRA volunteered to walk back while I made a start on the exhibition. About 20 minutes later, while I was unhurriedly admiring the photographs, my phone rang again. Having arrived and retrieved the wheel brace, Mr BOTRA was on his way back to the exhibition and the tyre fitter was now ringing to say that the first tyre was off and he could see our ‘van was already fitted with good quality high-pressure tyre valves!
Re-united we both returned along the [now very familiar] canal to pick up the ‘van feeling somewhat shame-faced that we hadn’t realised what sort of valves Renault fit on their ‘vans. The National Tyre’s fitter was very cheery about the whole thing and, to make us feel better, explained that they had only recently started seeing vans fitted with these valves. National Tyres didn’t charge us anything and Tyresave took the valves back with a generous refund so only our self-respect was lost.
Walking along the wide expanse of Fraisthorpe Sands was easy as we headed north towards Bridlington. I meandered along the beach doing a spot of beach combing, finding beautiful stones and shells, watching the oyster catchers feeding on the shoreline and a flock of sanderlings flying in formation. A group of three horses were ridden through the waves and wind surfers were enjoying the surf. We explored the old look-outs that had slipped on to the beach as the soft clay erodes. A beach is never dull. After hot chocolate in Bridlington we returned, now walking in to the wind and I was bent over to avoid the wind in my eyes. I found a discarded plastic bag in the surf and filled it with plastic bottles and other litter as we got closer to the ‘van.
Earlier in the day we had stopped at the village of Rudston to see the stunning tall Neolithic monolith in the churchyard and the graves to Winifred Holtby and the MacDonalds of Sleat. We had camped in an idyllic small site south east of York, no facilities or electric but a view of a small lake. We had watched a group of tufted ducks diving and moving purposefully as we had breakfast.
From Bridlington we walked to Flamborough Head, the path hugging the line of the cliffs. Showers rushed in as we reached the lighthouse and we sheltered in the cafe before going down to the sea. The white cliffs were shining and stunning after the rain and we watched two seals bobbing n the bay. Following the cliff path to North Landing we spotted elegant gannets flying in formation over the surf and guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes lined up on the cliffs. Another shower came in and we were lucky to just catch the hourly bus back to our campsite.
After an evening of rain, clear skies came and we woke to sunshine. We drove to Pickering and Cawthorne Roman Camp. The ditches and banks of this vast site on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors are impressive. From here we followed paths through woodland, fields and moors on a nine mile walk, much of our route on the Tabular Hills Walk, an intriguing name that comes from their distinctive table-top shape.
Our trip had taken us through swathes of snowdrops and bright daffodils just starting to flower but it was a mammal that made me really feel like it was spring. It was the first day of March while we were away and that morning we spotted our first brown hare of the year gracefully lolloping around the field we were camped in. These fast-moving and beautiful animals came to the UK with the Romans and are always joyful to watch. For me the March hare always feels like a real herald of springtime.